While the answer to the question posed in the title to this article seems obvious enough, it is actually a fairly complex question in many jurisdictions on Long Island. It is important to know where the front yard for your property is because municipalities typically regulate the location and types of structures that can be placed in front yards, more so than in rear and side yards.
Generally, a front yard is defined as an open, unoccupied space on the same lot with a building, situated between the nearest roof or foundation portion of the principal building and the lot line adajcent to a street, and extending from side lot line to side lot line in the case of interior lots. Questions about the location of a front yard most often arise when a property is located on a corner lot, flag lot or waterfront lot.
For instance, the Town of Southampton has stated that corner lots shall have two front yards situated between the nearest roofed portion of the principal building and the front lot line along each street. This can result in larger setbacks, depending on the regulations of the zoning district in which the lot is located, than would normally be required for what is a side yard on a non-corner lot. Other municipalities, such as the Town of North Hempstead, require that corner lots have a front yard on each street frontage, however, the front yard setbacks are determined based on the width of the two street frontages with the narrower street frontage requiring a greater setback.
For properties which are located on the water, municipalities often consider the waterfront boundary to be the lot’s primary frontage. For instance, in the Town of Southampton, a waterfront lot line is deemed to be the front lot line and the line opposite the front lot line being the rear lot line. This can result in swimming pools or other typical “rear yard” accessory structures being placed in what is generally thought of as the “front yard.”
This issue recently arose in the Town of Southampton, following the Town building department’s determination that a property having wetlands in the rear of the residence was a waterfront parcel, thereby making the yard facing the water the lot’s “front yard.” Based on this determination, the homeowner was issued a building permit to allow for a swimming pool, which is only allowed in a rear yard, to be constructed in the yard facing the street. The neighbors challenged the building department’s determination before the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Zoning Board ruled that the existence of wetlands did not make the lot a “waterfront” parcel and overturned the building inspector’s determination.
As you can see, depending on the jurisdiction and the location of the building lot, the yard in the front of a residence may be a lot’s front yard for practical purposes, but not for zoning purposes. Accordingly, when any construction or renovations are planned for a property, the property owner or contractor should look very carefully as to what the various setback requirements are, and determine if the area in front of the residence is the lot’s legal front yard.