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Thread: Zoning along railroad right-of-way

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Zoning along railroad right-of-way

    We are a bedroom community with no industry or other railroad related use.

    What is an appropriate zoning category for land along a railroad where you don't want to encourage industrial type usage in town?

    Currently there is some farm land and some scattered houses, and the line does cut across a main road through town (where there is some old commercial one half block wide on each side of the main road).

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    Treat a railroad ROW like you would a road ROW and put anything you want there. I've seen lots of non-industrial uses along railroads. Larger lot residential seems to work particularly well, if the train doesn't come so often as to become a liability.
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    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    How often is the rail lined used? Is it off a spur or a main line? Is the rail operator a Class I, II or III?
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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I think the answers here are on the right track. If the rail is not used heavily, then any use should be fine alongside it. If it does get used heavily, then you may want to consider non-residential uses unless land values are high enough that people will not shy away from buying next to the rail. Besides zoning, you can use lot size and design standards as a tool to control the uses on a property. Keep lot depths shallow (200-250 feet) to discourage large buildings and the building configurations preferred by large industrial operations. Regulate parking location, require landscaping, establish a relatively low maximum structure height, and limit or prohibit outdoor storage.
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    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    (Full disclosure requires that I admit that I really like trains and everything railroad)

    My back yard abuts a relatively busy mainline with at least 14 trains a day and often more. Four other lots on the cul-de-sac abut it as well. There are about 50 -100 feet between the track and the lot lines. There is a slight grade so trains coming down hill make very little noise. The other way the locomotives are sometimes rather noisy, but rarely are they a real bother. I don't wake up when they roll through in the wee hours.

    I think the biggest issue is horn blowing. The cloest grade crossing is about 2 miles away. So you do not hear the horn unless you are outside.

    So if some distance back from track and not close to a crossing, I see no problem with residential - especially large lot. Fore safety I would require that the yards adjacent to the ROW be fenced, however. Tragic for a pet or worse child to wander onto the track.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Thanks for your responses.

    This is a main line with 12 trains a day.

    We had considered a buffer zone of say a 100 foot heavily landscaped area with walking/bike trails on each side (except for the one or two blocks "in town").

    Would this be a "taking," or would you just require any development along the railroad to provide a 100 foot landscape setback?

    The line runs north-south. On the east side a minor road runs parallel and adjacent to the tracks from the south to about half way through town. On the west side a similar road runs maybe half that distance.

    Should such parallel roads be encouraged and extended?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Sadly, the trails idea is a taking. Parallel roads provide a buffer, but they are "one sided". Development, thus tax revenues, are only on one side. This could become a maintenance issue. Now, to combine the two concepts, trails could be provided along the parallel road rights of way.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Consult your state legislation. You may be able to acquire the land through parkland dedication requirements, in which case the takings argument goes away. You may also find that some developers will like the approach you are suggesting. Trails and open space create value, whereas the railroad can arguably reduce value. Even without a requirement to do so, some developers may dedicate the land to the city. Lastly, consider drainage. If the land near the railroad is low, then that is potentially a good place to create stormwater management facilities.
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    Cardnal has a good idea. Drainage is key to a railroad and there may already be some DRA adjacent to the track. That's what happens behind my house. There is a rail;road ditch and a city overflow ditch (handles overflows from a nearby DRA which pops off at the 50 year storm or so. The two :systems" ditches are not the same, but i"ve seen them overtop the deviding berm a couple of times. The track is on a 8+/- ft fill through there.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian craines's avatar
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    Be aware of the fact that most Railroad Right of Ways the soil may be farily contaminated with arsenic as most railroad companys regurlarly sprayed their ROW's with the nastiest weed killers and defoliants. Soil Remediation can be quite costly and areas that accept contaminated soil may be limited in certain areas.
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