setback requirements

Spring Adcock, planning, zoning and codes administrative assistant for Coffee County, points to the rural area of the county on the zoning map. More flexible requirements related to minimum residential setbacks outside of city limits have been approved by the Coffee County Planning Committee.

More flexible requirements related to minimum residential setbacks in Coffee County outside of city limits have been approved by the Coffee County Planning Committee.

Each city has specific rules about how far a property must be located from the street or adjacent properties to the side and rear; setbacks are the restrictions imposed. 

The committee voted on Aug. 28 in favor of changing the minimum requirements for developing a lot in the county.  They also voted to establish 50-foot front setbacks and 25-foot rear and side setbacks for all residential lots. The minimum lot size remains .80 acres, but the required minimum width of the lot will increase to 125 feet.

Before the new regulations take effect, the Coffee County Commission has to approve them. The commission voted on Tuesday, Sept. 11, but the outcome was not available as of press time.


Current requirements

Presently, to be allowed to build a house, the lot has to be at least .80 acres in area, and the required minimum width of the lot, measured at the building setback line, is set at 100 feet. If the minimum fire flow is met, the front minimum setback is 50 feet and the rear and side minimum setbacks are 25 feet.

For properties with water service not capable of providing the minimum fire flow, the side, rear and front setback has to be at least 50 feet under existing regulations. In those situations, the minimum setback is higher to ensure a greater distance between the structures in an effort to keep a fire from spreading from one home to its neighbors.


Proposed changes

The planning commission voted on Aug. 28 to remove the language referring to fire flow and to establish minimum front setback of 50 feet and minimum rear and side setbacks of 25 feet for all residential lots.

The minimum lot size remains .80 acres, but the required minimum width of the lot will increase to 125 feet.

The proposed changes would simplify the requirements and offer more flexibility to developers, according to members of the planning commission.

The language about the required fire flow is unnecessary because the majority of Coffee County residential properties   outside of city limits, don’t meet the required fire flow, according to members.



Most of rural lots don’t meet the fire flow requirement, according to Kirt Gray, planning, zoning and codes administrator for Coffee County.

With different requirements for properties meeting the fire flow requirements and those that do not meet the requirements, the process of determining the setbacks for lots has been confusing, according to Gray.

Member of the committee Dennis Hunt echoed Gray’s opinion.

“That’s why I think the words ‘fire flow’ should be eliminated,” said Hunt.

“We ought to loosen [the requirement] up, instead of us being the first roadblock, and leave it flexible for all the property owners,” Hunt added.

Civil engineer Kenny Sadler, of Manchester’s Sadler and Associates, was present at the meeting to share his knowledge and experience with the committee members.

The proposed regulations will make the process smoother, added Sadler.

“What we are looking for is to avoid the confusion,” he said. “Kirt and I both get hung up in the confusion of what the setback is, what [property developers] can do and what they can’t do. And then, you have to get the water company involved.”

Sadler said he often deals with properties in Manchester city limits that don’t meet the required fire flow and that the requirements in the city are not as strict as they are in the rural area.

“We have areas in the city that don’t meet fire flow,” Sadler said.

He said the established setback in the city is only 10 feet, but admitted that the response time in case of a fire would be much shorter than in the county.

Most other counties allow setbacks less than 25 feet, said Saddler, adding that decreasing the setback requirements will boost development.

“The more difficult you make it, the more it encourages people to go somewhere else,” Sadler said.

Sadler recommended 25-foot minimum setbacks and added that would be consistent with the current building trends. 

“People are wanting smaller lots these days, with less to mow and less to keep up,” Sadler said. “This is the trend and I think it’s going to stay that way.”


Fire departments

One of the things to consider when loosening the regulations is the rating given to the volunteer fire departments in the county, noted member of the committee Steve Cunningham.

The volunteer departments in the county are North Coffee Volunteer Fire Department, the Hickerson Station Volunteer Fire Department, Hillsboro Volunteer Fire Department, New Union Volunteer Fire Department and Summitville Volunteer Fire Department.

As of Wednesday, Hickerson Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Jonathon Brandon wasn’t aware of the proposed changes. Brandon said he would discuss with his colleagues if decreasing the required distance between structures will affect fire protection.


Elena Cawley can be reached by email at