Coffee County has set a public hearing for 5 p.m., Tuesday, March 12, prior to the full commission’s scheduled 6 p.m. meeting, to address changing the requirements for minimum setbacks in the county’s zoning resolution. The discussion will also include eliminating the language referring to fire flow, which sets an extra level of protection in case of a structural fire. 

Though the public hearing has been set, it’s not yet clear what the proposed changes by the Coffee County Planning Commission will be.

The planning commission has changed its proposal several times already, even after the public hearing had been announced.

The planning commission has so far voted for and then rescinded several proposals, including reducing the current 50-foot rear and side setback requirements to 25 feet and eliminating the fire flow language; reducing the current 50-foot rear and side setback requirements to 35 feet and eliminating the fire flow language; and reducing the rear and side setback requirements to 25 feet, if a hydrant is installed within 1,000 feet of the site.

The most recent proposal, approved Feb. 26, is to reduce the rear and side setback requirements to 25 feet if a hydrant is installed within 1,000 feet of the site, and eliminating the language that refers to fire flow.

But even those requirements may have changed by now.

Late yesterday afternoon, the commission held a special-called meeting “to further discuss current setbacks and possible amendments,” according to Cindy Roper, planning, zoning and codes administrative assistant.  That meeting was in progress at press time.

The planning commission’s efforts have been focused on easing the requirements, which would boost development, while, at the same time, ensuring the safety of the community.


Current requirements

Currently, 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 requirement is 50 feet and the rear and side minimum setback requirements are 25 feet. If the minimum fire flow isn’t met, all setbacks should be 50 feet.

According to members of the planning commission, most rural areas don’t meet the minimum fire flow, which means the minimum requirement for most would be 50 feet.  

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 currently be at least 50 feet. In those cases, a larger minimum setback ensures a greater distance between structures, which helps keep a fire from spreading from one house to another.


CTAS recommendations

The public water system should have adequately sized water mains, pumps and above ground storage capabilities as well as properly placed fire hydrant locations, according to the Tennessee County Fire Handbook, prepared by the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), in cooperation with the Tennessee County Services Association and the County Officials Association of Tennessee.

“In more rural areas fire hydrants should be placed as close to structures as possible, with the driving distance from a hydrant to a structure not to exceed 500 feet if possible.

“The minimum size of a water main should be not less than 6 inches … At no point in the water system should a fire flow of less than 500 GPM at 20 PSI be achieved,” according to CTAS.

Sufficient fire flow and adequate setback requirements are among the main factors, when it comes to Insurance Services Office (ISO) ratings, as well. ISO ratings are used to determine the amount of insurance premiums for homeowners.

ISO is a for-profit corporation that works for insurance companies to evaluate the capability of a community to suppress fires. ISO rates an area on a scale 1 through 10, with 1 being the best. Poor ISO ratings lead to higher insurance premiums for homeowners.

For example, a homeowner would pay $530 per year for insurance in a community with an ISO rating of 1; that homeowner would pay $630 if the community’s ISO rating is 5; and the same homeowner would pay $1,000 per year if the community’s ISO rating is 10.


A balancing act

According to civil engineer Kenny Sadler, of Manchester’s Sadler and Associates, who attended the Feb. 26 planning commission meeting, Coffee County’s current setback requirements are stringent compared to other counties in Tennessee.

On the other hand, Sammy Morton with the Manchester city and New Union volunteer fire departments said reducing the setbacks without ensuring sufficient fire flow could potentially endanger some rural areas in the case of structural fires.

Elena Cawley may be reached via email at