Coastal Smart Growth Home: Getting Started: Waterfront Setbacks


Setback lines prohibit development within a specified distance between the water’s edge and the edge of a structure. Setbacks ensure that development is far enough from the water’s edge that it will not be threatened by erosion and other coastal hazards.

How to Get Started

Evaluation of Erosion Hazards

The Heinz Center conducted this report with funds from FEMA in response to a mandate from Congress to analyze possible policy changes to address erosion hazards within federal programs. This report summarizes coastal hazards by regions, current (as of year 2000) federal and state policies in these areas, and possible changes to the NFIP to incorporate coastal erosion. Chapter 4 covers current approaches to erosion management and includes tables showing setback provisions in place by state.

Coastal Construction Manual

FEMA began publishing coastal construction manuals in 1981, and the current 4th edition provides guidance for designing and constructing residential buildings in coastal areas that will be more resistant to the damaging effects of natural hazards. Volume I provides information about hazard identification, siting decisions, regulatory requirements, economic implications, and risk management. Volume I is intended for design professionals, officials, and decision-makers.

Construction Setbacks

NOAA’s Office of Ocean & Coastal Resource Management provides some background information on construction setbacks and links to two case studies: Hawaii and North Carolina.

Model Bylaw for Effectively Managing Coastal Floodplain Development

Developed in coordination between WHOI Sea Grant, the Cape Cod Commission, and Hawaii Sea Grant, this document is intended to assist communities in development of a regional or local bylaw for floodplain regulation to protect the natural functions of the shoreline and coastal floodplain while facilitating appropriate uses of public and private property within the coastal floodplain. Page 10 specifically addresses coastal setbacks.