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Rural / small town planning Are there any good resources for pros/cons of public vs private road creation?


My Planning Commission is considering an amendment to the Subdivision Ordinance, specifically on the portions pertaining to private roads. It appears that due to the ongoing issues with private road maintenance, they are considering removing the ability of an applicant to even install a private road. They have asked that we look into the pros and cons of private vs. public road development. I was wondering if there were any good resources available that I could share with them. Any assistance is appreciated!

As an FYI, we have not had any 'real' subdivision requests (greater than 3 lots) in the past decade that require the installation of a new road. I have recently gotten several inquiries, so we want to be better prepared for the discussion.


Our township did away with private roads and easements about three years ago. This has resulted in a lot of landlocked parcels that can't now be legally developed without the installation of a private road. Tread carefully.

Private roads require a strong stand by the municipality. Frankly, private roads going to heck are not your problem and that needs to be communicated clearly to the residents. If your PC wants to tinker with your private road ordinance, I would look at strengthening the HOA/road ownership requirements.


I'm in a rural county so we only have money to maintain our main roads. Any subdivision is forced to do private roads because we can't afford the maintenance. That being said everyone complains about the quality of the private roads. It's also like Coragus said, we are clear at every meeting that private roads and their condition is not our problem. We expect neighbors to get together and maintain it themselves or get the HOA to do it.


I would say if the Town can incur the cost to maintain then do away with new private roads. We have the same issue in our community where lake associations own most of the lake roads and rarely improve them. It is beginning to deter people from buying, and frustrating those who have lived there for a number of years. Looking long term it is a good idea for the Town to have control over the maintenance to ensure it is not sub-standard. It also gives the Town the ability to install adequate turnouts for DPW vehicles and buses. However, I agree that if you continue with allowing private roads you have to be clear that the Town is not responsible for the upkeep.

luckless pedestrian

Super Moderator
I am not a fan of private roads but I am not sure if legally you can just ban them so check with your town attorney on that

I don't like

  • the 4th level of government it creates
  • many (not all) HOA's have power struggles with the officers and they try to get the town to mediate
  • people move in and wonder why they pay so much in taxes but get no services
  • people move in and get mad about plowing not good enough or too much in the winter, or bad maintenance in the spring rains washouts and call the town
  • the crazy deed restrictions of what you can do with your property and their harsh enforcement
  • generally the bad blood it creates in the "planned community" they made

People generally get along better, I find, if they are not required to

My street is a public way and we have parties and book clubs and the like and the neighborhood behind my house is a private way and everybody bitches all the time about everything

But, I do recommend that the HOA is:

  1. recorded at the registry of deeds with the subdivision with the developer as the President until the lots are fully developed, and
  2. there is a democratic voting process to elect officers with their roles clearly outlined
  3. a method for removal of an officer and for re-elections and
  4. a voting system for all residents to participate in changes or additions to deed restrictions
  5. adequate escrow for the full maintenance of the road, any shared utilities
  6. if septic is a shared utility, that there are funds to staff an engineer to maintain the system
  7. water too
  8. a clear outline of the role of the municipality - that is, resolving disputes (or not), enforcement of deed restrictions (or not) and a full allowance to enter the site to inspect road maintenance and any shared utilities at any time
  9. a clear outline of what would need to happen for the HOA to request the municipality to take the road as a public way and dissolution of the HOA if that happened (that is, what improvements to the roadway would have to occur for the town to consider taking over the road, and utilities too if they are shared

I have had headaches from HOA's not clearly outlined and managed and funded so make sure everything is approved up front and part of the subdivision review