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Thread: Single family cul-de-sacs

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Single family cul-de-sacs

    I'll put this out there first, I'm very against cul-de-sacs for only a few homes. That said I do land review for a County in NJ which is running out of large tracts of land so now the 4-10 acre sites are starting to get developed. Twice in the past few months subdivision applications have come across my desk that are for 2 or 3 homes, off a County Road (my jurisdiction), on a cul-de-sac. I really have no way to say no or limit these developments and the one time I said no I was threatened with lawsuit and had to reluctantly approve the project or lose in court.

    With this thread I would like to hear about what towns and stronger jurisdictions have done about limiting cul-de-sacs for only a few homes. I know of this one development in my town that has a cul-de-sac for one (1) home. Why didn't they just get a long driveway? I know many places are against flag lots but from a cost point of view I would prefer that over a publically owned and maintained "glorified driveway"

    Thanks for the help and letting me vent.
    @GigCityPlanner

  2. #2

    Cul-de-Sac's and Flag Lots

    IMHO, Flag Lots and Cul-de-sacs are both piss-poor solutions to land development. I would concentrate on your overall transportation plan for the County and how connective is it. Coming from a smaller jurisdiction where Cul-de-sacs were the norm, I took alot of flak from developers and my Planning Commission by suggesting that new subdivisions look at the overall connectivity with the community. Limit how long these cul-de-sacs can be, 500 feet is usually the max distance between hydrants, look at your Fire Protection Services and see if that applies. Just a thought.
    Forechecking is overrated.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    It's not the max as much as the min I'm looking at right now. This cul-de-sac in front of me right now is between 150 and 180 feet long servicing 3 (maybe 4 if I get the other house to connect to it) houses.

    I once required a 17 lot subdivision to internally connect to another subdivisino next door, lost that argument when the town didn't back me up. Now I have 2 cul-de-sacs facing each other, kind of like fists pounding each other... really kinda sad. I even dusted off the state plan and quoted it there. Interconnectivity is important but when the people who live on the cul-de-sac think that they if they are connected they will get 300 more vehicles a day through their "private" area, well you get the idea.
    @GigCityPlanner

  4. #4
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide
    It's not the max as much as the min I'm looking at right now. This cul-de-sac in front of me right now is between 150 and 180 feet long servicing 3 (maybe 4 if I get the other house to connect to it) houses.
    In my town the minimum cul-de-sac length is 450' to prevent bubbles and little cul-de-sacs from artificially creating frontage. Our Maximum is 1200'.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by NHPlanner
    In my town the minimum cul-de-sac length is 450' to prevent bubbles and little cul-de-sacs from artificially creating frontage.
    And I think that is exactly the problem we have here. I don't know what this municipalities rule is, I'll have to research it.
    @GigCityPlanner

  6. #6

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    I htink there are past threads about this.

    So is the problem the status of the road or the fact that it is a cul-de-sac? If a road goes through, between two existing streets, but serves only 3-4 homes is that better?

    I think any reasonable jurisdiction permits private roads serving a handful homes. We are going to revise our current policy, which permits too many (49) homes without multiple points of ingress and egress, but we are certainly not going to accept Town maintenance of roads serving just a few homes. They will continue to be private roads. If they serve more than 3-5 (exact number is still being debated) homes, they will have to meet the AASHTO standard for very low volume roads. I live on a private drive that serves 26 homes, and while our maintenance and it is an overall satistfactory and affordable arrangement.

    I also think that the road network muat reflect the terrain. To come out of our cul-de-sac any way but the one, you either tear up Class II wetlands or build a road through a long established golf course. Connectivity is not appropriate. Where the terrain presents no constraints of this sort, connectivity between neighborhoods is highly desirable, although it doesn't always have to be for autos.

  7. #7

    It's an old argument

    Oh yes, the old argument of those who live on cul-de-sacs, "think of the children." If you think about it, 300 ADT over a peak 12-hour period is only 25 cars an hour. Spread over 17 houses, that ain't much. You have to bring your elected officals on board and back your argument with numbers and rules and regs in place. Sometimes that's a tough job to do, but it helps in your staff reports and supporting documents.

    And getting taken to court is not a bad thing. I think 95% of planners have this dread of getting taken to court by developers by forcing their hand. The last time I had a developer threaten legal action on a proposed plat (which met NONE of the established guidlines set by Ordinance), I looked him at him, tossed him my business card and told him to make sure he got my name correct on the legal documentation. BUT, I also had the rules and regulations in my favor. If they aren't in your favor, then I would proooooooooooobably suggest not going that route.
    Forechecking is overrated.

  8. #8
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Tide--I am not sure I understand what outcome you would support here? Private Drives?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    One thought- we always route subdivisions to the local fire department, and they HATE cul-de-sacs. What do your local emergency service providers think of these?

    Also, our road department will only approve so many encroachment permits on certain roads, so cul-de-sacs are limited.

    Finally- once, in a public meeting, our road supervisor stood up and said that the developer should cut down the number of cul-de-sacs because it would bring too many children into the street and pedophiles would have easy picken'. It was embarassing to be a county employee that day.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Let me give you all a little more info and a WWYD.

    I'm a County Planner in NJ, therefore I have only jurisdiction over developments which impact County Roads or Drainage systems. Towns are responsible for use and design zoning. I'm at the mercy of the town saying yea or nay to this project. However, I feel as a County Planner I do NOT want a 180 foot cul-de-sac coming off a fairly busy 4 lane undivided road just to squeeze an extra house out of the odd shaped property. There is no other way to access the acreage in the back of the property but when you live in a R-75 zone and can squueze out 3 lots of 7,500+ you're going to do it, especially in NJ's hot real estate market.

    gkmo62u - I'm mixed on whether I would want private drives or not, but the last thing I want is more road openings scatterd along a busy road making driving more confusing, added impervious coverage, and an unsightly design with the houses facing sideways to the road.

    CCMNUT39 - I'm not scared of being sued but at the County like I said above, I'm at the mercy of the Town having cul-de-sac limiting languarge in their regs. We do not have such regs, and ours are terribly outdated and having them changed would be very difficult (I also am not the boss here)
    @GigCityPlanner

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Breed's avatar
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    I think some places ban them outright, except in instances where topography makes them any alternative impossible.
    Every time I look at a Yankees hat I see a swastika tilted just a little off kilter.
    Bill "Spaceman" Lee

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ABS's avatar
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    In Brisbane the Doolandella Local Area Plan for a greenfield development area on the urban fridge cul-de-sacs must be open ended with pedestrian access.

    LINK (pdf 185kb)
    Great mindless think alike.

    Planning my way out of wet paper bag since 2003

  14. #14
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    I was happy to see that the subdivision I live in was designed without cul-de-sacs. They also put a median down the main R.O.W. and split it into two smaller roads, with round-abouts istead of regular intersections. Very neat indeed. The builder told us, however, that this was the last subdivision being built this way as the City was soon making this design illegal. Go figure.
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  15. #15
    Cyburbian ABS's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jread
    I was happy to see that the subdivision I live in was designed without cul-de-sacs. They also put a median down the main R.O.W. and split it into two smaller roads, with round-abouts istead of regular intersections. Very neat indeed. The builder told us, however, that this was the last subdivision being built this way as the City was soon making this design illegal. Go figure.
    If you could find it in Google Maps and give the link I would be very interested in seeing it
    Great mindless think alike.

    Planning my way out of wet paper bag since 2003

  16. #16
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ABS
    If you could find it in Google Maps and give the link I would be very interested in seeing it
    Unfortunately neither Google nor Mapquest have the neighborhood (guess it's too new) but here's a grainy image of it from the City of Austin site. You can see the connectivity and the split main road & round-abouts:

    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  17. #17
    Cyburbian ABS's avatar
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    Not a bad subdivision layout. Could have shorter blocks, but it is still interesting to see the integration of roundabouts into American subdivision.
    Great mindless think alike.

    Planning my way out of wet paper bag since 2003

  18. #18
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide
    I'll put this out there first, I'm very against cul-de-sacs for only a few homes. That said I do land review for a County in NJ which is running out of large tracts of land so now the 4-10 acre sites are starting to get developed. Twice in the past few months subdivision applications have come across my desk that are for 2 or 3 homes, off a County Road (my jurisdiction), on a cul-de-sac. I really have no way to say no or limit these developments and the one time I said no I was threatened with lawsuit and had to reluctantly approve the project or lose in court.

    With this thread I would like to hear about what towns and stronger jurisdictions have done about limiting cul-de-sacs for only a few homes. I know of this one development in my town that has a cul-de-sac for one (1) home. Why didn't they just get a long driveway? I know many places are against flag lots but from a cost point of view I would prefer that over a publically owned and maintained "glorified driveway"

    Thanks for the help and letting me vent.

    First of all, cul-de-sacs are the devil and should be banned from this earth. So you are right on that one. Secondly, don't let developers intimidate you with lawsuits. Every time this has happened to me, I have always secretly wished they would sue me/us and sometimes verbally invited them to do so, because they will lose. I look at it like this: even if the local jurisdiction's regulations don't contain specific language that will restrict things like cul-de-sacs, you still have the responsibility to provide information to the decision-makers based on good planning practice. In this case you could provide countless examples of trip bottlenecking, lack of street connectivity, etc., that can result from cul-de-sac development. Then you can base your recommendation on that. I used to have people tell me that if it's not in the regulations or the Comp Plan, we could not base on a recommendation on it. That's crap! Good luck next time!

  19. #19

    fun read on "cool the sack"

    Hexagonal Planning in Theory and Practice, by Eran Ben-Josephand David Gordon

    you going to have to google it. early posts no url allowed. i didnt know planners had cool as rock avatars ABS.

    C:

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by vagaplanner
    First of all, cul-de-sacs are the devil and should be banned from this earth....
    While in concept I can agree with you, I do realize that there are those rare instances in which existing development patterns, topography, soils, land cover, or other features of a site will not permit development of a through street. In these cases, a cul-de-sac may be suitable. They are exceptions, though.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  21. #21
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jread
    Unfortunately neither Google nor Mapquest have the neighborhood (guess it's too new) but here's a grainy image of it from the City of Austin site. You can see the connectivity and the split main road & round-abouts:

    What was the stated reason for the city outlawing this style of design/layout? It looks pretty attractive to me.

    Mike

  22. #22
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920
    What was the stated reason for the city outlawing this style of design/layout? It looks pretty attractive to me.

    Mike
    I think the builder must be confused about what will/won't be allowed. From looking at your neighborhood, the only thing that would probably be different is that the new rules would require more connections to existing neighborhoods (which is a good thing). I sure hope they aren't going to force a pure modified grid system on development in Austin as that doesn't compliment the geography in their developing areas.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  23. #23

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    As someone who has made a habit of living at the end of the road for many years (although with a pleasant one year interlude in a traditional grid town where the grid is modified to take everyone to the mills, with the blocks becoming small as you approach them) I am curious about the empirical evidence people have on the alleged evils of cul-de-sacs. Is there any actual analysis? Or is this another assumption [some] planners make without checking the facts?

    My current neighborhood is a cul-de-sac, and a relatively long one. But we supply as many members of town boards as any neighborhood in Williston except one, and the neighborhood's float traditionally wins the best float in the local 4th of July parade. We aren't anti-social or alienated. We have an active neighborhood life with annual barbecue and cleanup days, well-used common recreation facilities, baby showers, etc. We can walk to town hall, the library, and one of the schools (the one used for big town events) in less than 15 minutes. A nice evening seldom goes by when you don't meet a neighbor on the trail.

    Connectivity is, in general, a good thing. There are parts of our town here that need more and we are trying to figure out how we might provide it. But who is to say that a neighborhood is automatically disconnected from community life because it is a cul-de-sac? Or is it that ANY development pattern - including a neo-traditional grid - is a problem if it extends, unrelieved, over too much area or if it ignores the realities of the terrain and the character of the community?

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    I think Mistah Nellis raises a valid question. Phrases like "cul de sacs are evil" or the implication that they are locii of suburban alienation and angst are overwrought and silly.

    My response would be that:
    > It seems to me that if you want to accommodate people in a cul-de-sac-based system of housing you will have more 'dead' ground and therefore, for a given population, more sprawl than you'd have with a grid.
    > Spoke and collector tends to needlessly concentrate traffic rather than disperse it; this is turn would tend to lead people to want a picturesque, speed-calmed cul-de-sac for themselves and near-highways for the collector roads, which makes proper downtown, etc. more difficult.

    An aside: In many places in London, people have successfully lobbied the municipality ('council') to close hitherto communicating roads, turning them into dead ends/cul-de-sacs. The result is of course more traffic congestion and the capturing of an externality for the few who live on the 'fortunate' road (note that pedestrian connectivity is maintained, just not vehicular connectivity). Once, a major bridge over the Thames had to be closed for repairs; at one point the residents of the road that led up to it (which was typically quite busy but had effectively become a cul-de-sac...with river views had the effing temerity to ask the council to keep it pedestrianized -- luckily they were told to eff off. "Please Mr councilman close MY bridge over the Thames, double the value of my property, everyone else can be worse off..."
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  25. #25

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    Define "dead ground." Around here the space between the culs-de-sac consists of wetlands, stream corridors, trails, and municipal parks - it is not dead at all. It is soaking up floods, providing wildlife habitat, and providing places to bike, hike, and play soccer. All of which are just as important to the community's health as the homes, streets, etc.

    I have to say that sometimes I imagine neo-traditional design purists as pale creatures who never leave their flat, the coffee shop below the flat, or the nearby bookstore. And under whose feet formerly beautiful brooks run in pipes. There is certainly a level of density that is necessary to support certain services (transit) and amenities, but what would NYC be without Central Park? Those who began opening up green space in the cities and neighborhoods did so for excellent reasons that we should not forget.

    I agree completely that a grid, modified as necessary to fit the terrain, is essential to making the center of a town work well. We are in the process of trying to put grid street connections through a typical suburban commercial area here. But as one leaves the center it seems to me that responding to the terrain and creating a diversity of neighborhoods has a lot of merit.

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