• Building Setbacks

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    A setback is a space in which no structures (as defined by Land Use Code (LUC 20.50.046) may be located, except where specifically allowed by the Land Use Code.

    image of single-family residential building setbacks


    1. Depth of eave
    2. Setback intrusion by minor structural element (porch)
    3. Building footprint – Existing single-family residence
    4. Rear-yard setback dimension for primary structure.
    5. Structure setback dimension from critical area.
    6. Critical area buffer
    7. Rear-yard setback dimension for accessory structure
    8. Front-yard setback dimension (applies to all structures)
    9. Side-yard setback dimension
    10. Structure setback dimension from an access easement, 10 feet required
    11. Garden shed 15 feet or less in height above existing grade
    12. Minor building element (porch)

    Where are setbacks measured?

    In most cases, from the property lines. Setbacks are required along front, rear, and side property lines. However, alley and access easements crossing a property may require special setbacks from the center of the alley or edge of an access easement.

    When measuring a front setback from a property line abutting a public street or private road, the setback is measured from the interior edge of the right of way (for public street) or tract (for private road). Your property line is coincident with the edge of the right of way or tract. Since the right of way or tract can contain unimproved shoulders, you should not assume that your property line is at the edge of the sidewalk, curb, or paved edge of the travel lane. Typically, your property line is several feet from the road improvements.

    Unlike rights of way and tracts, access easements do not always coincide with property lines. The easement may be located partly or entirely on your property. When a front-yard setback is required from an easement located on a property, the setback is measured from the interior edge of the easement.

    If the property contains critical areas, additional buffers and setbacks apply and are measured from the critical area edge. For more information on critical areas buffers and setbacks LUC 20.25H.

    If the property lies in the Shoreline Overlay District see LUC 20.25E for buffers and setback from the shoreline.

    Are setbacks required from anything else?

    In most cases, buildings may not be built over utility easements (e.g., power, water, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, telecommunications) without written approval from the associated utility. If you have easements on your property, you should research them to see what allowances and restrictions apply. These easements are often shown on the recorded plat or the title report.

    How large a setback is required?

    That depends on the land use district where the property is located and whether the setback is along a front, rear, or side property line. For example, if your house is in the R-5 district, the following setbacks are required: Front – 20 feet; Rear – 20 feet; Side – 5 feet minimum on one side, with the two sides totaling 15 feet. If your property is in the Office district, the required setbacks are: Front– 30 feet; Rear – 25 feet; Side – 20 feet each side.

    Other land use districts have their own setback requirements, and plat conditions will sometimes require additional setbacks. Setback requirements for all districts outside of the Downtown are found in LUC 20.20.010.

    The city has many different land use districts, so it's important that you know your district when investigating setback requirements. Talk to a land use planner to confirm your zone and associated setbacks or use the public mapping tools available.

    How do I know which property line is front, rear or side?

    • The front property line is the one which abuts a street right-of-way(s), access easement, or private road from which the lot is addressed or gains primary access.
    • The rear property line is the one most opposite the front property line.
    • The side property lines lie generally perpendicular to the front and rear property lines. Any property line not defined as a front or rear property line is by default a side property line.

    What if my lot is on a corner?

    If the corner is created by two intersecting public streets, a front setback is required along each one. Of the two remaining property lines, one is considered a rear (the one most distant from a front) and the other, a side.

    If the corner is created by the intersection of a public street and either an access easement or private road, a front setback is required only along the right of way, easement, or road providing primary access to the lot or from which the lot is addressed. The property line most opposite to the front will be a rear line, and the remaining two will be side lines. However, you must always maintain a setback of at least 10 feet from a right of way, access easement, or private road—or greater if the Land Use Code requires. You may not have a 5 foot side-yard setback abutting any of these access routes.

    If it is unclear which setback is which, who decides?

    The director of Development Services will establish the setbacks based upon orientation of the lot to surrounding lots and to any existing development pattern.

    Minor building elements can intrude into a setback

    Minor building elements — including patios, platforms, eaves, trellises, open beams, fireplace chimneys, decks, porches, balconies, lanais, bay windows, greenhouse windows, and similar features — may intrude into required setbacks, subject to the limitations below. Any element that increases the floor area, such as a cantilevered closet or bay window that extends to the floor, is not an minor building element. Retaining walls and rockeries 30 inches or taller and heat pumps are not minor building elements.

    • If the minor building element is 30 inches or greater above grade, it can extend into the setback a maximum of 20 percent of the required setback or 18 inches, whichever is greater.
    • If less than 30 inches above finished grade, the minor building element may extend anywhere into the setback.
    • Except for eaves, the combined length of all minor building elements on any building façade that extend into the setback may not exceed 25 percent of that façade length.
    • The minor building element may not be used to extend the enclosed building floor area into the setback, except that chimneys and bay windows may extend to the finished grade if they protrude no more than 18 inches into the setback.
    • A minor building element may extend 18 inches or 20 percent into a required structure setback in the Critical Area Overlay District (LUC 20.25H.035) only if it is above ground level and will maintain vegetation in a healthy condition, including preserving solar access to the vegetation.

    What else can intrude into a setback?

    • Swimming pools
    • Fences
    • An underground building if:
      • No part of the intrusion is higher than 30 inches above existing or finished grade, whichever is greater, measured at any point. Areas necessary for reasonable access to the building are exempt.
      • The rooftop of the building is properly screened from view or is landscaped.
      • The building does not intrude into a setback required by LUC 20.25H.090.
    • Accessory structures can be placed within 5 feet of the rear property line. Under certain circumstances they can extend all the way to the rear or side property line. See Accessory Structures for more information.
    • Certain street or sidewalk improvements, such as rockeries and retaining walls required to accommodate the improvement, can be placed in a required setback if no feasible alternative exists.

    In addition, a garage or carport on a slope may extend into a required front setback if either:

    • The site rises steeply from the street and compliance with the front setback would place the garage or carport eight feet or more above street grade, and there is no reasonable way to provide a driveway up to the residence, or
    • The site drops steeply from the street and there is no reasonable way to provide a driveway of less than 15 percent grade down to the residence.

    And the garage or carport meets the following:

    • It is set back at least five feet from the front property line
    • If located downhill from the street, its height does not exceed 15 feet above street level if it has a pitched roof or nine feet above street level if it has a flat roof
    • If located downhill from the street, the structure and its driveway must be designed to minimize slope disturbance

    Properties in a Critical Areas Overlay District have additional requirements for setbacks from streams, wetlands, steep slopes, and geological hazard areas. See LUC 20.25H.

    Properties in a Shoreline Overlay District have additional requirements for structures located near Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish, Lower Kelsey Creek, and Phantom Lake. See LUC 20.25E.

    Can setbacks be reduced?

    There are several ways to ask for relief from setback requirements.

    A Variance is a generally used mechanism for requesting relief from Land Use Code requirements, including setbacks. Variances must satisfy very specific criteria. See LUC 20.30G.

    A Shoreline Variance can be requested from setbacks of the Shoreline Overlay District. See LUC 20.30H.

    If property is developed as a Planned Unit Development, setback flexibility can be proposed and approved. See LUC 20.30D. Critical Areas Overlay District setback requirements can be modified, waived, or adjusted subject to specific criteria. See LUC 20.25H.

    The Office and Limited Business (OLB) land use district allows administrative modification of setbacks in certain situations and subject to criteria. See LUC 20.25C.

    Are increased setbacks ever required?

    Yes. In some cases:

    • Plat conditions will sometimes require more restrictive setbacks.
    • Structures housing animals have special setback requirements. See LUC 20.20.130.
    • Churches, institutions, clubs, community recreation buildings, and elementary and secondary schools in a residential district must provide side- and rear-yard setbacks of 50 feet each.
    • Properties in a Transition Area Overlay District have increased setback requirements. See LUC 20.25B.

    Where can I get additional information?

    Building Setbacks in Downtown Bellevue

    Where can I find Downtown setback requirements?

    Land Use Code (LUC) 20.25A.020 is the first code section to check. It includes a chart of most dimensional requirements, including setbacks, for the Downtown land use districts. When reviewing that chart, pay close attention to the footnotes. For example, Notes (4) and (15) establish maximum front-yard setbacks of 0 feet for most arterial street frontages. In other situations, the notes may require a greater setback than the chart indicates.

    If your property is in the Perimeter Design District (PDD), which is a district that overlays some of the Downtown properties, additional setbacks may apply. Those setbacks are charted in LUC 20.25A.090. The PDD is defined and mapped by LUC 20.25A.090.

    What are the basic setback requirements?

    For properties located in the DNTN-0-1, DNTN- 0-2, DNTN-MU, DNTN-R, and DNTN-OB districts, front, rear, and side setbacks are 0 feet. For properties in the DNTN-OLB district, front and rear setbacks are 20 feet, and side setbacks are 0 feet. However, these setbacks are just a starting point and can be affected by a number of other code provisions.

    Why are most front-yard setbacks 0 feet?

    In Bellevue’s Downtown we want to promote a vibrant urban commercial center. A 0 feet setback creates a street wall that helps define and enclose the street corridor. That adds to a sense of activity and intensity and fosters an interactive relationship between the pedestrian on the sidewalk and the commercial activities within the building. Exceptions to the 0 feet maximum setback apply in the DNTN-OLB district, as stated above, and in the Perimeter Design District (see below).

    How are setbacks measured?

    The front setback is measured from the inside edge of the required perimeter sidewalk. The rear and side setbacks are measured from the property line.

    When are greater setbacks required?

    All buildings in the Downtown which exceed 75 feet in height must provide an upper-level side and rear setback of at least 20 feet. This setback requirement applies to all floors above 40 feet. This requirement may be modified by the director of Development Services Department (DSD) if the applicant demonstrates that the resulting design will be more consistent with applicable design review criteria and if the building design, with the modification, will create sufficient spacing between towers to encourage a feeling of an open and airy Downtown.

    The Perimeter Design District, as mentioned above, has special setback requirements. At the ground level, buildings in PDD Subdistrict A must be set back at least 20 feet from the Downtown boundary. This requirement does not apply to Subdistricts B or C.

    The PDD also requires an upper level setback which applies to all Subdistricts (A, B, and C) along certain streets. This setback must be at least 15 feet deep and must occur at a height no more than 40 feet above average finished grade. See LUC 20.25A.090.D.6 for a list of the affected streets.

    Similarly, each building façade in the Downtown Core Design District facing NE 4th, NE 8th and 104th NE must provide an upper level set back of 20 feet or more at a height between 25 feet and 40 feet above average finished grade.

    Street trees, if required to be planted on the property side of the sidewalk due to existing utility locations, will add 4 feet to the required front- yard setback.

    Street frontage landscaping required by LUC 20.25A.040 may increase the front- yard setback by up to 8 feet. However, in most cases a more urban alternative, such as a street wall, will replace the landscaping requirement.

    Does the code establish maximum setbacks?

    Yes. Maximum setbacks are established for many locations in the Downtown, including:

    • Along Main Street, in Old Bellevue (DNTN- OB), the front-yard setback for residential or nonresidential use is always 0 feet; it may not be increased.
    • When abutting a street pursuant to LUC 20.25A.115 (Design Guidelines – Bldg/Sidewalk Relationships), the maximum front-yard setback is 0 feet unless approved by the director of Development Services.
    • In the DNTN-OLB district, the maximum front or rear setback from 112th Ave NE is 30 feet, unless otherwise approved by the director of Development Services to permit a drop-off lane.

    Are there exemptions from setback requirements?

    Yes. Marquees or awnings that comply with the requirements of LUC 20.25A.030.C (FAR Amenity Incentive System) may extend over the public right of way if approved by the director of the Transportation Department and the DSD director, as long as that extension does not conflict with any other city code, such as the Sign Code (Bellevue City Code 22B.10) or the building code (currently chapter 32 of the Uniform Building Code).

    Also, in the DNTN-OLB district, the director of DSD may approve an intrusion into the 20 feet front- yard setback from the east side of 112th Ave NE to permit pedestrian-oriented frontage retail uses. The intrusion is limited to 30 percent of the required front-yard setback area. All buildings within the setback area must be devoted to pedestrian-oriented uses and meet applicable design criteria for such uses.

    Finally, the upper level setback requirement for the Downtown Core Design District described above can also be waived through design review if: (a) the setback is not feasible due to site constrains, such as a small or irregularly shaped lot, or (b) the modification is necessary to achieve design elements encouraged by the Land Use Code, and the modification does not interfere with preserving view corridors.

    Where can I get additional information?