Staff analysis of DISC II recommendations
The STA was initiated as part of the implementation plan for the Neighborhood Model. The Neighborhood Model form of development is intended to create attractive and desirable places to live while providing better utilization of the developable land. Better utilization of this land would reduce the need to consider expansion of the Development Areas. In providing this assessment, staff has focused on the STA as a means to allow implementation of the Neighborhood Model. Staff recognizes some have questioned whether the Neighborhood Model is “a” form of development or “the” form of development to be used in the Development Areas. Staff has assumed that, regardless of the form of development, the underlying objective of the STA is to provide for higher density development and the need to expand the Development Areas.
In evaluating the STA recommendations, it is important to make a distinction between proposed new requirements necessitated by better utilization of the developable land and those driven by establishing the form of development promoted through the Neighborhood Model.
- Infrastructure considered necessary for higher density includes curb and gutter streets, street interconnections, and overlot grading plans. Regardless of whether the form of development is consistent with the Neighborhood Model, this infrastructure is appropriate to assure sustainable development where higher densities are promoted.
- Other infrastructure is necessitated by the form of development promoted with the Neighborhood Model, but can only be successfully implemented on an area-wide basis. Sidewalks are an example of this infrastructure. If sidewalks are not required of all development, a pedestrian orientation, which is a key element of the Neighborhood Model, will not be achieved to the level called for in the Neighborhood Model.
- Finally, some infrastructure addresses the need for consistency with the form of development promoted with the Neighborhood Model rather than the need for higher density development. Narrower streets that better fit the terrain, which are only possible as private streets, and street trees are both considered important parts of the Neighborhood Model. While that infrastructure is not needed to provide sustainable high density, it provides aesthetics considered important for creating high quality, desirable urban communities. Staff notes that private streets also provide more flexibility in subdivision design and require less right-of-way, which makes private streets an attractive option for the development community as a way of offsetting costs associated with the improvements being required with the STA. However, private streets also require maintenance and replacement to be handled by someone other than VDOT. This represents a significant policy change for the County and will have to be carefully considered.
DISC II’s recommendations for the amendment to the Subdivision Ordinance have focused on four particular areas. Those are interconnecting streets, private streets, overlot grading, and urban street features, which include curb and gutter, sidewalks and street trees. For each of the aforementioned areas, staff provides the Board with an overview of the potential conflicts between those recommendations and an ‘Urbanizing County’ level of service.
Staff notes that a major component of the ‘Urbanizing County’ transportation strategy is providing “essential links.” While this approach recognizes that the County will need to construct some of these links, it also calls for the completion of essential links within new development. This ordinance amendment is intended to assure those connections are constructed as part of the development rather than requiring the County to construct them after the fact. Staff believes this is consistent with the ‘Urbanizing County’ transportation strategy. The waiver provisions in the DISC II recommendation should be noted. This waiver could allow the developer to avoid constructing this street interconnection to the property line, but would require right of way dedication and construction easements for the proposed street. While intended to restrict the circumstances where the development does not actually build these interconnections, there is the possibility that the Planning Commission could approve the waiver and the County might need to complete the interconnection at a later date. To minimize the County’s financial risk in these circumstances, staff recommends the waiver consideration include how the future connections would be completed. This might include escrowing of the cost for completing this interconnection. When the adjoining property develops, those escrow funds could be transferred to that developer with completion of the interconnection or the County could use the fund to complete the street. Once completed, the street would then be turned over to VDOT for maintenance. Staff notes this provision would have a cost to the County for maintenance of escrow accounts and management of construction projects to complete streets in some cases.
The STA proposes that private streets be allowed by exception through a waiver approved by the Planning Commission. In considering waivers for streets in the Development Areas, DISC II recommends the Planning Commission evaluate waivers with respect to the goals of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, which includes the Neighborhood Model. This is fairly consistent with the existing Subdivision Ordinance. The primary difference is the DISC II recommended STA would allow private streets to be designed in keeping with the Neighborhood Model, while the current ordinance requires private streets to be consistent with Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) standards. VDOT will only accept streets into its maintenance system that meet its street standards. Some of the streets proposed in the Neighborhood Model would not meet VDOT standards, creating a circumstance where the maintenance of these streets could become the County’s obligation should homeowner association be unable to maintain the street. Staff believes the County could approach this situation in one of three ways:
1. The County could prohibit private streets except where maintenance agreements are created that assure the perpetual maintenance of the streets. Those agreements would include provisions for assuring street maintenance is adequately funded and that necessary maintenance is actually performed. If this option is selected by the Board, staff notes there would be a cost to the County for administration of the private street agreements, which could include additional staff. Additionally, staff considers it unlikely that an “ironclad” agreement could be created that assures the County is never petitioned to assume responsibility for the street. Eventually, this would likely require the County to consider being responsible for street maintenance. Staff believes this is inconsistent with the Board’s transportation strategies for an ‘Urbanizing County’.
2. The County could allow private streets to be built knowing that eventually those streets would become the County’s maintenance responsibility. This requires the County to accept that it will need to maintain streets, a service that can be costly and is currently only used by two counties in Virginia. However, those Counties’s have a different form of government and receive a portion of the VDOT allocation. Staff believes this option is inconsistent with the Board’s transportation strategies for an ‘Urbanizing County’.
3. The County could require that private streets be constructed to VDOT standards. This would allow a private street to be turned over to VDOT for maintenance should the property owners ever petition the County to take the street over in the future. Although this may not attain the ideal of the Neighborhood model, no foreseeable organizational changes would be necessary and this approach is consistent with the existing Subdivision Ordinance. This would assure that private streets become public streets maintained by VDOT should the homeowners be unable or unwilling to continue maintaining them. However, if these private streets are not maintained adequately and the homeowner eventually request the County to take them over, staff notes there remains a financial risk that the County will be expected to bring that street up to current VDOT standards before VDOT would accept it for maintenance. Historically, when homeowners petitioned the County to take over private streets, the County has required the homeowners to first bring the street to a service level that VDOT is willing to accept. That avoids the County need to improve these streets. Finally, staff would note that private roads in the rural area in subdivisions of six lots or less are currently allowed to be built to a different standard than acceptable to VDOT, but the County has not been asked to assume maintenance responsibility for those roads.
The STA requires lots smaller than 20,000 square feet in area to have an overlot grading plan. The overlot grading plan is intended to assure adequate drainage across lots, safe driveways and access, and yards that can be stabilized. While most of these provisions are intended to address safe and usable lots, staff recognizes the drainage provisions also reduce the risk of the County undertaking expensive drainage projects to rectify drainage problems in the future. Staff concurs with the DISC II recommendation and believes this section is appropriate to minimize that risk of future County drainage projects and to assure sustainable development.
Urban Street Features
These street features can be divided into two categories, urban street sections and streetscape. Urban street sections require streets with curbs and storm sewer systems, while rural street sections rely on ditches for drainage. Unlike rural street design, the urban street section is typically sized to allow on-street parking. DISC II recommends the STA require urban section streets, but allows the Planning Commission to waive this requirement under specific circumstances where the urban street is not likely to be needed in the future. Staff concurs with this recommendation. With increased development density, this street section is appropriate and avoids the risk of expensive street improvements in the future due to deterioration of rural section streets impacted by illegally parked vehicles on the shoulder of these streets.
Streetscape includes facilities and amenities along streets, with the primary emphasis on sidewalks and street trees. Sidewalks along public streets will be maintained by VDOT, though at a lower service level than typically considered acceptable by the County. Sidewalks along private streets would be maintained by the homeowners. VDOT does not maintain street trees. Street trees require the homeowners or the County to be responsible for maintenance.
DISC II views both sidewalks and street trees as essential components of the Neighborhood Model and recommends they be required throughout the Development Areas. Waivers of either requirement would be considered by the Planning Commission, based on the likelihood of any future need for the improvements. Staff supports DISC II’s position on sidewalks, but notes there is a strong likelihood that additional county funding for sidewalk maintenance will be required. This is consistent with the ‘Urbanizing County’ level of service for streetscape recently reviewed with the Board. DISC II has recommended 6-foot planting strips between the curb and sidewalk for street trees to be provided along streets. Should this requirement for planting strips be adopted in the STA and constructed for the purpose of planting trees, it is likely the County will need to develop a street tree program that will require additional maintenance funding. Similar to the earlier discussion regarding private streets, the option of requiring maintenance agreements with property owner association exists, but this would require County resources to form and enforce agreements. Additionally, staff believes there would be likelihood that property owners would eventually petition the County to assume responsibility for the street trees when future maintenance becomes expensive for the property owners. As was discussed by the Board at a recent work session on this issue, the Board may want to consider requiring the trees to be planted in the homeowners’ yards rather than the street right of way. That option eliminates the need for County maintenance, but it would either eliminate the assurance the trees would remain (the property owner could remove the trees or fail to maintain the trees) or would require County agreements with the property owner association to assure the trees are perpetually maintained. Finally, it should be noted that putting the trees in the front yard would also require less width for the right of way, which is considered desirable by the development community. The planting strips could be reduced from six foot widths to three foot widths, which is the minimum required by VDOT.
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