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Thread: Public streets vs private streets

  1. #1
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    Public streets vs private streets

    Hi! I'm trying to do research about subdivisions with public streets requesting to go to private streets or going from private to public. Does anyone out there that works for a city have requirements for converting from public to private? For example, we require 100% of property owners consent, replatting the subdivision, formation of an HOA, etc. And for going from private to public, we require 51% of property owners consent.

    Also, how many requests has your city received and how many have been approved?

    Any information on this topic would help me out with my research. Thanks!!!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    In my municipality, we're in a snowy climate which requires snow plowing of public streets, so you very rarely ever see a public road go private. No HOA wants to take on snow plowing, in addition to the taxes they pay.

    We often get requests from HOA to have private roads become public - for snow plowing and the costs of maintenance and repair (which is almost always deferred and badly done by the HOAs). We have very strict design, material, and testing standards that must be met before a road can become public, which is part of our subdvision regs. Often, developers will skimp on the private streets and the HOAs find that the cost of bringing the private road up to public road standards is so immense that they give up.

    As a planner, i think about 5% of my job is explaining to HOAs which streets are public and which streets are private and the differences between the two.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmmm....

    Is there some kind of law in Texas requiring the local government to get 100% approval from owners before vacating right-of-way in favor of an easement and giving the land back to the people?

    One main reason a local government would accept an existing private road (new liability) into the public road system is politics, another being connectivity. Private roads are so often a loosing proposition considering they tend to be in lousy condition and have all sorts of other problems associated with utilities and meeting current standards.

    Private roads ensure that owners continue their civic duty and pay taxes on property that everyone else is using, what could be more democratic than that? It also makes that owner assume at least some of the liability over the private road

    Public to Private conversion with existing roads? Why do it, unless they want to create a gated community? Or maybe they have more money to maintain the road than the government?

    Private to Public- Much more likely considering HOA's and improvement associations that fail to maintain the road for any number of reasons (fraud, mismanagement, had a shady uncle do the work...) Then you have to convince the public to assume the cost of acquiring a public road that may not meet any standards and may require repair to avoid liability issues....oh yeah the liability....ugghh....

    As for the process......just pick the best regulations used by another similar jurisdiction
    Skilled Adoxographer

  4. #4
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    The reason this issue came up is because we have a subdivision wanting to be a gated subdivision ( bleh...).

    SouthsideAmy - even though we rarely get extreme weather conditions here in TX, that is a good point about the cost of maintaining the ROW when there's ice on the road.
    The main reason this particular subdivision is wanting to to private/gated is because of "safety" reasons and they think people that don't live there are the ones speeding through their hood.

  5. #5
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One View post
    Is there some kind of law in Texas requiring the local government to get 100% approval from owners before vacating right-of-way in favor of an easement and giving the land back to the people?
    Yes, I believe so. I know we require that for any ROW abandonment, which is what this amounts to. I think 100% approval would be necessary to convert the ROW to a private lot with a listed private street.

    I STRONGLY recommend the original poster stay away from a conversion to private streets. You are asking for problems. Many cities and counties in Texas have already prohibited use of private streets in new subdivisions (like us), or are considering it.

    "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)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    I've never dealt with an HOA offering up its roads, and that includes the two and a half years that I spent in a county road commission. Here, there is a case of the city and a developer entering into discussions about the city taking over a single street, but that is for some very specific reasons having to do with a regional traffic study that we're finishing up.

    Generally, a unit of government won't really want to take on the local streets that private roads make up. The amount of revenue sharing that they bring in never comes close to the cost of maintenance on the roads.
    Maintaining enthusiasm in the face of crushing apathy.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by MissJ View post
    The main reason this particular subdivision is wanting to to private/gated is because of "safety" reasons and they think people that don't live there are the ones speeding through their hood.
    What? They think that if the road is private, no one will speed? Ah....I love the general public. I can see the sign: "slow, private road ahead".

    How does your municipality handle police patrol? Can the police patrol and give tickets on a private street without an agreement/payment by the HOA? What does the Fire Department say?

    I would agree with SubRMan -- there is rarely any good that comes out of a public street conversion to private. Not only do you lose connectvity from your public network of streets, but once the homeonwers come to realize the true new costs of maintenance, plowing/salting, police patrol, public safety etc., etc., they'll probably run scared.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Taking SR's comments to the next level, you might want to check with any statutory requirements. Converting from public to private might require vacating the street(s). If so, ownership likely reverts to the properties either side of the centerline. Poof - there goes legal access. There are ways to avoid that like creating an access and utility easement before vacating.

    We don't prohibit private streets but don't encourage them either. We do require that new private streets meet the same standards as public streets, both design and construction.

    A little OT: I was talking to a 10-year old a few years ago about communities in general. He was trying to talk about gated communities but couldn't quite remember the term. So he called it a "caged community." I've been calling them that ever since.

  9. #9
    Dan Staley's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    Yes, I believe so. I know we require that for any ROW abandonment, which is what this amounts to. I think 100% approval would be necessary to convert the ROW to a private lot with a listed private street.

    I STRONGLY recommend the original poster stay away from a conversion to private streets. You are asking for problems. Many cities and counties in Texas have already prohibited use of private streets in new subdivisions (like us), or are considering it.
    AFAICT most HOA agreements are from templates. In my experience any changes must have 100% approval.

    I also recommend doing the advise and consent thing with your clients and advise them away from conversion, as gates won't solve their problem - maybe a traffic calming retrofit; my last place explicitly forbade gated communities, as they are antisocial.

    I am personally against private government, as the ones I've seen mean well but aren't experienced enough to do a good job without throwing money at the problem (no cracks about the Financial Sector Bailout!!). Privatizing streets in a private government situation is problems waiting to happen - wait until a water main goes or sewer work needs to happen under a street.

  10. #10
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Bim View post
    Taking SR's comments to the next level, you might want to check with any statutory requirements. Converting from public to private might require vacating the street(s). If so, ownership likely reverts to the properties either side of the centerline. Poof - there goes legal access. There are ways to avoid that like creating an access and utility easement before vacating.
    Ohhh... good point. I forgot that when we did the abandonment, the right-of-way was split between the adjacent property owners. Also, abandonments are not allowed when it results in elimination of legal access.

    We don't allow access easements to establish legal access. Vacate & replat the entire subdivision, with the right-of-way redesignated as a private lot owned by the HOA in perpetuity (for when you inevitably end up taking it back over)? That'll be an awful lot of signatures on that plat!

    "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)

  11. #11
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    In my experience, private streets suck. The second or third generation of property owners most always ask the governing body to take them over. These experiences are not with gated communities, just developers who got in on the cheap. In gated areas, all owners should be aware of the HOA responsibilities, and I have seen some that work, some that don't. I do know of one instance where public went private, and it made sense due to particular circumstances. There was 100% agreement...I would never accept 51%. As alluded to earlier, I think a replat may be in order to go from public to private...not a vacation. A replat would handle the covenants on how the road may be used and maintained.

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