|A typical plot plan. The heavy black lines are property lines.|
The dotted lines indicate the setbacks.
|A typical city's table of setback requirements.|
Every city is different, so don't make any assumptions.
The site plan or plat map will give you the basic dimensions of your property, as well as indicating potential problems. Beware areas with dashed lines labeled R.O.W. (right-of-way), reserve, or easement. These areas may contain public utilities such as sewer lines or overhead power lines, or they may be reserved for future utilities. Even though you own the property, you usually cannot build on these areas. You can pave or landscape them, but the utility company nevertheless maintains the right to remove anything that’s in their way in order to access them.
|Here's the buildable area that remains|
on this simple rectangular property. Your existing
house will already have used up most of it;
what's left is where your addition will have to go.
After you’ve determined your setbacks and height limits and checked for R.O.W.s, reserves, or easements, subtract these areas from your property. You can do this on paper or by actually measuring from your approximate property lines. What's left is the buildable area. Don’t be disappointed if there's a lot less room to build than you thought. A good designer or architect can usually work around a tight site, and it’s better to have a realistic idea from the outset rather than wasting a lot of time on an impossible scheme.