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I've seen, in a number of New York state municipalities' zoning codes, the requirement that a (front, side, or rear) yard have a minimum size only if "provided". ("Yard" is defined, in most of these codes, to something similar to "building setback from the property line".) For example:

Side yard: None required, but 10 feet if provided

What does it mean to not "provide" a yard, for requirements like this? It's been suggested to me that "provide" could mean to have a non-zero setback from the property line, so that "no yard" would mean "zero distance". However, I feel "zero" is ill-defined, so:

  1. Is it common for small but measurable distances (2'? 1'?) to be considered "no yard"?
  2. Is providing a yard an immutable fact of conditions on the ground, or is it changed by intent?
  3. For requirements such as these, could an existing conforming yard affect whether a yard must be provided after future changes?

Some example situations to demonstrate my confusion:

  1. New building on vacant lot, built 4' from the line. Have we provided a non-conforming yard, thereby not conforming to the code, or have we chosen to not provide a yard, as we are allowed to by the code?
  2. New building on a vacant lot, we build up to the property line. It seems this is straightforwardly allowed?
  3. Lot already contains a building 11' off the side line. Now we propose to expand 5' towards that side. I would guess this is not allowed, because the yard is provided but we would be shrinking it to under 10'? But could you instead expand all the way to the line, and cease to provide any yard?
  4. Existing building 1' off of the side line. Is it conforming or not?

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