An Argument for Maximum Setbacks

September 5, 2008 15 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Should we change our setback laws to encourage the long term development of a walkable community?

What We've Grown Accustomed To


It does not have to be this way.  The following images show examples of chains associated with sprawl type developments in Jacksonville.  However, in other locations these same chains are be laid out in a manner that can contribute to a walkable community.


McDonalds - 1245 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY

This typical McDonald's box is located close enough to the street that the front becomes outdoor seating along the sidewalk.  The parking is located on the side and rear of building.

Lowes - South End District, Charlotte, NC


The parking lot for this Lowes is located in the middle of the development site.  The side of the store containing the garden center is designed to allow pedestrian access from South Boulevard.

McBee Station - Greenville, SC


The development features a Publix and Staples as the commercial anchors.  However, their main entrances face the large parking lot located in the rear of the site.  The development's front facade features a mix of retail and office use.

Santee Trolley Square - Santee, CA

This typical big box River City Marketplace style center is a Transit Oriented Development, centered around rail.  The surface parking is still there but its shielded from the street edge with outparcels that line the sidewalk.  Despite being in suburbia and maintaining a low development density level, the layout is still walkable and mass transit friendly.


Downown Residence Inn by Marriott - Chattanooga, TN

The hotel design places the building between the street, sidewalk and the surface parking lot.  The hotel's lobby is accessed from the sidewalk, while the restaurant features outdoor dining space along the front. 


Rite Aid Pharmacy - 520 West Broad Street - Richmond, VA

This pharmacy sits at a major intersection a few miles outside of Downtown Richmond.  However, the building is on the corner instead of the parking lot.  The parking lot is located on the side of the building.


Chili's Bar & Grill - 408 Market Street - Chattanooga, TN

The surface parking lot for this single story Chili's restaurant sits behind the building.  The restaurant's outdoor patio also is adjacent to the sidewalk.  Imagine the feel of a street like Blanding, Southside or Baymeadows if the same buildings located on them today were adjacent to the street/sidewalk instead of their parking lots.  It would be a completely different scene.  A scene that is mass transit friendly and walkable.


The number one benefit of having maximum setbacks:

A maximum building setback requirement eliminates the possibility of asphalt parking between the building and the street. 

Over time, new construction and urban infill projects combine to create, or bring back to life, pedestrian friendly corridors throughout the community.

In our struggles to create a community where mass transit and walkability are viable mobility options, finding a way to get projects to accommodate the pedestrian is a must.  We can become walkable.  We can do better, but we first have to demand it.

Article written by Ennis Davis