More flexible requirements for minimum residential setbacks in Coffee County outside of city limits may become a reality, if approved by the Coffee County Commission.

The Coffee County Planning Commission voted in August to change the minimum requirements for developing a lot in the county, reducing the requirement for side and rear setbacks from 50 to 25 feet.

On Tuesday, however, after the commission heard concerns from a representative of the county fire departments, commission members changed their initial decision.

Rather than reducing setbacks to 25 feet, commissioners agreed to adjust the minimum side and rear setback requirements to 35 feet. 


Current requirements

Presently, in order for a house to be built on a lot, that lot must be at least .80 acres in area and, at a minimum, 100 feet wide, measured at the building setback line.

If the minimum fire flow is met, the front minimum setback is 50 feet and the rear and side minimum setbacks are 25 feet.

The minimum fire flow has been set as an extra level of protection in case of structural fire.

Under existing regulations, the required minimum fire flow is 500 GPM (gallons per minute) calculated at a 20 PSI (pounds per square inch) residual pressure delivered from a water line that is at least 6 inches in diameter.

For residential properties to which water service is not capable of providing the minimum 500 GPM fire flow, the side, rear and front setbacks must, under existing regulations, be at least 50 feet. In those situations, a larger minimum setback ensures a greater distance between structures, which helps keep a fire from spreading from one home to its neighbors.


Proposed changes

The planning commission voted in August to remove language referring to fire flow and to maintain a minimum front setback of 50 feet and establish minimum rear and side setbacks of 25 feet for all residential lots, whether they meet the fire flow requirements or not.

On Tuesday, members voted again to remove the language referring to fire flow, which they said was unnecessary because water service to the majority of residential properties outside of city limits do not meet the required flow. 

However, after concerns expressed by Sammy Morton with the New Union Volunteer Fire Department and the Manchester Fire Department, the committee agreed to only roll back the 50-foot minimum side and rear setbacks to 35 feet rather than 25, as initially proposed.

Additionally, the required minimum width of the lot will increase to 125 feet.

The minimum lot size remains .80 acres.

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


Expressing worries

Morton said many areas in the county don’t have the required water flow, so reducing the required setbacks to 25 feet would impose much higher risks in cases of fire.

According to Morton, in certain areas, such as the Fredonia Village, the fire flow meets requirements – the fire flow is 500 GPM delivered from a water line that is at least 6 inches in diameter.

“At the Fredonia Village, they have plenty of water there for fire protection, so 25-foot setbacks (would be) fine,” Morton said. “We can actually take the pumper and hook to a fire hydrant for full flow.”

In the New Union area, there are nearly 180 hydrants, he added.

However, in the Hillsboro area, there are only about 20 hydrants and in North Coffee has only 45 hydrants, said Morton.

“New construction burns eight times faster than older construction, it’s proven,” Morton said. “Three to five minutes, that’s it.”

An individual in a new house has “five minutes to get out,” compared to 29 minutes in cases of fire of older houses, said Morton.

“From the time a person discovers the fire, gets outside, dials 911, it’s four and a half minutes before the fire departments are even notified,” Morton said. “Where is that house involved now? The fire department gets there, that’s another five minutes.”

By that time that house is fully involved, and the protection of nearby structures becomes a main goal.

“If we have houses too close together, we are fighting [to save] three houses, and we don’t have enough water to fight the first house with,” Morton said.


Next step

Before the requirements are changed, a public hearing must be held and the full commission must approve the new setbacks.

A date for that public hearing has not been announced yet.

Elena Cawley can be reached at