Council revisits road rules
FRONT ROYAL — Some developers say the town would require excessively wide roads in subdivisions.
But Front Royal officials say the town risks losing the state money it receives for road maintenance if local regulations allow for streets narrower than Virginia Department of Transportation’s minimum standards.
Town Council continued a discussion about proposed changes to Front Royal’s subdivision ordinance, specifically the required widths of roads and sidewalks in new developments. Council postponed action on the changes after several people commented on the proposal. Some developers warned that requiring wider streets would add to the cost of projects and homes and that more asphalt would ultimately harm the environment.
Town Manager Steve Burke said Front Royal would not receive maintenance funding from VDOT for roads with widths that are below state standards. Front Royal receives approximately $1.75 million per year from VDOT for road maintenance. The town also can spend the money on snow removal and striping.
Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp explained that officials and the Planning Commission had concerns about making sure streets were wide enough to handle school buses and other large vehicles.
Existing town rules require a width of 32 feet for roads with up to 500 average daily vehicle trips and 40 feet for 500-3,000 trips. The town proposes changing the requirements to 36 feet for roads with up to 2,000 trips and 40 feet for more than 2,000. VDOT requires 29-foot-wide roads for 2,000 trips or fewer, 36 feet for 2,001-4,000.
“It’s not excessive,” Camp said. “I think some comments were made that the requirements are excessive. They’re probably comparable, I think, to a lot of jurisdictions in the area.”
By comparison, Culpeper uses VDOT standards. Strasburg requires a minimum of 34 feet for roads, though the director of the Public Works Department can determine if a wider street is needed. Some localities allow for narrower streets but only those with very low traffic counts, Camp said.
A street with 200 homes is assumed to experience 2,000 trips per day on average. Happy Ridge Drive is designed to collector-road standards, with more than 2,000 vehicle trips, because of the number of subdivision streets that connect to the route, Burke said.
Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger suggested the town use VDOT’s requirements in its regulations.
“So why do we even bother making up our own width?” Egger asked. “Why don’t we just say we’re going with VDOT’s standards?”
The town meets VDOT’s requirements, Burke said. However, the town’s proposal would mandate wider streets than what VDOT requires for busier roads because routes with more than 2,000 trips per day likely would also have school bus traffic, Burke said.
VDOT also requires 5-foot-wide sidewalks on new construction. The town has proposed a requirement of 5-6 feet for sidewalks. VDOT expands that to 8 feet. Councilman Bret Hrbek said he felt 6 feet is excessive. Burke said VDOT is becoming more vigilant when it comes to making sure sidewalks meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and wheelchair accessibility and likely could mandate 8-foot sidewalks in the future.
Egger called the Happy Ridge subdivision a “perfect example of how not to build a neighborhood.” Egger said she didn’t want to see the town allow more neighborhoods like it. She voiced concern about the construction of wide roads on which many drivers often travel faster than the posted speed limits.
Mayor Timothy Darr pointed out that Happy Ridge was built to the town’s standards at the time.
Councilman John Connolly said developers may apply for variances to the town’s requirements. Should the market show a demand for homes in neighborhoods with certain street designs, developers would need to meet that need, Connolly said.
Narrower roads pose a greater challenge to town crews during snow removal, Burke said.
Several local developers spoke at the work session about the potential effect the proposed rules would have on future homes construction. David Vazzana, with the Front Royal Limited Partnership, said the town would reduce the amount of pavement in a development by sticking with VDOT’s standards. Front Royal Limited Partnership had proposed narrower streets than required by VDOT for its development in town several years ago. Vazzanna said he predicts that VDOT’s standards will be considered excessive in 20 years.
Darr said council will continue its discussion of the proposed regulations at another work session in the near future.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org