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Thread: Block length in subdivision regulations

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Block length in subdivision regulations

    We are in the process of revising our subdivision regulations. One question that has come up is: we currently have a regulation restricting the length of a block to 1,600 feet or less for rural subdivision and 1,200 feet in length for high density subdivision. One of the planners thinks we should remove the requirement. I think we should retain it.

    I am asking the Throbbing Brain for arguments, pro or con, for having block lengths limited in a largely rural county with lots that typically are one acre or greater.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

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  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    This is usually the first variance we ask for on the rural subdivisions I've designed. But it is usually because topography doesn't realistically allow for anything else. I would suggest you leave it in so it is at least looked at when a submittal is made. Who knows what you may end up with without it.

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    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Rationalize it on the longest length of hose and adequate pressure that the fire department has.

    I know this sounds silly, but it stops arguments really quickly.

    I think ours in my old life was around 200 m (650 ft). if someone wanted to go longer, they had to demonstrate that reasonable access by a fire truck could be had. (ie drive over lawn/curb, access from an adjacent roadway or property). Of course we had many that were longer, but playing the fire protection card always saved us at appeal.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

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    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    I don't want to teach you your job, but playing the 'safety card' can presumably cut both ways (vast streets toa llow fire engioens to turn around, etc.).

    One of the many points that Jacobs amde that I agree with is the usefulness of short blocks. One fo teh few negatives about my neighborhood is that it was built with long blocks and what amounts to a collector road. The result:

    1. People drive more quickly down long blocks,/ fewer itnersections - this si usnafe for children / pets.

    2. The collector road gets more congested / unpleasant / dangerous than it has to be becauseyou can't get around too well trhough the rest of the 'hood due to the long blocks.

    3. Smaller blocks mean more corner properties and corner properties should be more valauble / scenic?

    4. Shorter blocks encourage people to walk through the neighborhood in varied ways, which icnreases safety and neighborliness



    I would favor blocks of 40 x 100 m (or smaller) in cities and 40 x 150 in the burbs (or smaller). Small blocks can be arranged in a much more picturesque manner.
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  5. #5
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    I don't want to teach you your job, but playing the 'safety card' can presumably cut both ways (vast streets toa llow fire engioens to turn around, etc.).
    My comments were based on "rural" places, not large urban centres.

    In rural areas, developers and fire departments are not going to argue for wider roads to be able to speed along. Fire departments will argue that because there are no hydrants, they get concerned when the hose gets too long. They are typically not worried about moving ladder and tower trucks like in urban areas.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  6. #6
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    You didn't ask, but our ordinance states:

    1) Blocks shall not exceed 1,400 feet in length, except where, in the opinion of the Planning Commission, conditions justify a greater distance.
    2) Widths of blocks shall be determined by the condition of the layout and shall be suited to the intended layout.

    We require a hydrant every 300 feet or so, but Donk raises a good point about fire protection.

    I also agree with Luca's first point that longer blocks encourage driving faster. Not sure about the corner lot thing (there was another thread somewhere), corner lots are subject to double sidewalk, road, and utility improvement costs, and have less usable yard and privacy.

    I would keep your requirement in, but maybe put a slippery clause (see our #1) that would allow some flexibility depending on the situation (for issues such as topography).

  7. #7

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    Blocks can be too long.

    I do not, nonetheless, use arbitrary block lengths in practice. They are not helpful in rural environments where the first goal of design is to respond to the terrain. In more suburban environments, I think you set a performance standard that puts a lot of emphasis on connectivity and use that to achieve your goal, responding to each site.

    Working in a suburb for the first time has made me even less enthusiastic about arbitrary specification standards of any type.

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    Cyburbian
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    My 2cents, don't worry about it. I know that will give heartburn to some planners but I think as long as the others issues are brought up its not an issue. We are talking a rural setting. I believe the fire inspector will look at a few things which probably will not be an issue - 1. The number of residents served on this street - if there is only one means of entering the area. 2. The distance from hydrant to the sides of any resident. The other issue I'm not sure about is the road surface, if its City maintained up to City standards. If not but under the City's planning jurisdiction then??? This seems to be a big issue where I have worked, the developers rarely want to create a rural subdivision (1acre lots) with streets up to City Standards. Not sure, though I don't like the idea of the City annexing something sub par that they could have addressed prior.

    Why try to create an urban setting in a rural environment. Likewise you wouldn't try to force a development in an urban core to look or work as a rural development???

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    Rationalize it on the longest length of hose and adequate pressure that the fire department has.

    I know this sounds silly, but it stops arguments really quickly.

    I think ours in my old life was around 200 m (650 ft). if someone wanted to go longer, they had to demonstrate that reasonable access by a fire truck could be had. (ie drive over lawn/curb, access from an adjacent roadway or property). Of course we had many that were longer, but playing the fire protection card always saved us at appeal.
    So True.
    Check with the ISO for more details and how it relates to your fair community's fire insurance rating. http://www.isomitigation.com/ppc/0000/ppc0001.html
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Does rural Montana have fire protection? Here, the rural water districts are not built for fire protection. If you hook a pumper truck to the line, it will collapse.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon
    Does rural Montana have fire protection? Here, the rural water districts are not built for fire protection. If you hook a pumper truck to the line, it will collapse.

    All the more rason to be concerned about the power of th epump on teh truck.

    Also a quick note, I misread and thought this was avout cul-de-sac length, not block length. My comments generally reamin teh same though.

    In determining the length of block, you should also assess the existing lot patterns and how parcels will connect to one another and base it on this as well as know natural features.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  12. #12
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Thanks for your input thus far. Some of you have brought up arguments I have already thought of, while others offered advice that I had not considered or can look at differently, so keep the comments coming.

    If I might direct the discussion a little better. This is rural Montana. Very few subdivisions have on-site water supplies for fire-fighting, much less hydrants. From past experience in the county, we've found that the governing body and the developers like absolutes (so long, so tall, so wide) and are very resistant to letting the planners decide what is appropriate for a subdivision.

    Don't get me started on cul-de-sac/dead-end road length. I already lost that fight.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Gallatin county regs are 400 feet at the shortest, 1200 feet at the longest. Unless you ask for a variance or do a PUD.

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