Town Council adopted a packet of graduated road-width specifications at the July 25 council meeting. Developers had previously designed streets based on a set standard – 34 feet wide from curb to curb, on 50-foot rights-of-way.
The new standards will allow for more narrow streets if parking is prohibited and/or low traffic counts warrant. Requirements for dedicated rights-of-way would diminish to match the reduced pavement requirements.
Land-use planner Kyle Gulbronson (URS Consultants), on retainer with the town, hearkened back to the June meeting, when a rather unusual application begged the question: Did one standard fit all projects?
Doug Warner (Element Design Group) had come before council at that time, seeking preliminary approval of the Woodlands of Pepper’s Creek project.
The 9.2-acre parcel lies along the south side of Pepper’s Creek. The developers had created a plan showing 24 “twinhomes,” tucked amidst old-growth trees. Project density would be 5.2 units per acre, much less than the 10 per acre maximum permitted on the high-density residential (HR) parcel.
Warner noted a street more reminiscent of a winding driveway than a thoroughfare, and defended their deviation from the norm — this plan would create a better look and feel, and would save more trees, he said.
There were other difficulties, and while council members expressed a willingness to possibly grant a waiver for certain requirements, they were less willing to deviate from the width standards. They asked Warner to redraft the project.
However, Council Member Andy Engh, one of the more staunch defenders of the width standards, said he’d done a bit of research since then and found that 34 feet was more pavement than he’d realized.
Engh said he’d visited various subdivisions around the county and rolled out the measuring tape — many of those streets were no more than 20 feet wide.
Many through-streets around Dagsboro didn’t meet the standard, Gulbronson pointed out — and a 34-foot road would be almost as wide as Main Street.
In addition to design flexibility, Gulbronson said the graduated standards were a good way to reduce impervious surface, which means less stormwater management.
Piney Neck Road resident Nancy Morgan asked, “If you make the roads narrower, doesn’t that give the developer more land to build on?”
“Conceivably,” Gulbronson admitted. “But it could give you more open space, too.” Morgan considered that the less-likely outcome.
Gulbronson said his brother lived in a neighborhood with 34-foot streets, where traffic speeds frequently reached 50 mph. He said narrower streets could be more appropriate in subdivisions, where they tended to have a calming effect on traffic.
And, he said he’d recommended the same packet to the town of Millsboro.
Council unanimously approved the graduated standards (Mayor S. Bradley Conner absent).
About 30 minutes later, Warner stepped forward to present a slightly modified Woodlands of Pepper’s Creek design.
(Council Member Jamie Kollock took his leave, this being one of three pending projects around town situated on lands belonging to, or formerly belonging to, the Kollock family.)
Warner said they’d redesigned the project using street widths based on the standards Gulbronson had introduced earlier that night — gambling that council might accept them.
Since council had accepted them, the developers had cleared two hurdles — (1) roads too narrow and (2) not enough right-of-way.
Three obstacles remained — (1) they hadn’t provided sidewalks, (2) they’d exceeded the maximum length for a dead-end street, and (3) the developers wanted a private, versus public, road.
Element’s Matthew Peterson said they were hoping to maintain the natural walking trails that already existed on the site, rather than install sidewalks. After a few questions regarding interconnection, council expressed a willingness to waive that requirement.
While the town typically doesn’t permit dead-end streets more than 400 feet long, and the lane through the Woodlands of Pepper’s Creek ran 600 feet before passing a side spur, Warner said it would be virtually impossible to lay out the street any other way, due to the shape of the parcel. Council concurred.
However, Town Solicitor Tempe Steen continued to advise against the request for private roads (as she had done in June).
She said homeowners’ association bylaws might clearly state that the residents would be responsible for their own streets — but how many people actually read those documents?
Steen pointed out that residents on private streets frequently came to feel the town tax bill entitled them to the same town services everyone else enjoyed (such as street maintenance) — especially if everyone paid the same amount in taxes.
Council Member Clay Hall disagreed. As long as the homeowners’ documents spelled out their responsibilities in black and white, he said, there’d be nothing to dispute. Steen said Hall’s position was also reasonable.
Council Member Kurt Czapp mulled it over. In the event that the homeowners ever asked the town to assume ownership of the streets, would there be a way to guarantee that those homeowners paid for any necessary repairs first, he asked.
With Steen’s assurance, he called the question and they unanimously voted for approval of the preliminary site plan for Woodlands of Pepper’s Creek.