It’s the end of the road for the cul-de-sac. New regulations will greatly reduce the number of the bulbous-ending streets allowed in neighborhoods, and Virginia home builders say the move will hamper their business. The requirements were passed last month by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which establishes policy for Virginia’s transportation system.
The regulations require the secondary roads found in subdivisions to be through streets that provide connectivity to primary roads and adjacent neighborhoods. Subdivisions that do not meet the requirements will not be admitted to the state road system and not eligible to receive maintenance funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
In Virginia, developers of subdivisions plan and build the roads within the neighborhood. Once they are finished building, the state accepts the roads into the highway system and they are maintained by public dollars. Neighborhoods with too many cul-de-sacs and too few connections would not be admitted into the state system under the new rules.
Most developments may be approved under existing requirements until July, according to VDOT.
Gov. Tim Kaine led the effort to approve the regulations, which state officials say will improve safety and save money on maintenance. But Michael Toalson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Virginia, said the new regulations would make building new neighborhoods more expensive for developers.
“There will be shorter streets and more intersections. That makes fewer lots available for homes and it increases the cost of development because storm water management and signalization at intersections is expensive,” Toalson said. He said the regulations would substantially reduce the number of homes that can be built on a tract of land, which means the cost of land is divided by fewer homes.
Toalson said that adapting to the new regulations means the subdivision model that has dominated the Richmond metro area will effectively come to an end.
“Under this regulation, you could not build a Brandermill or most other highly desirable large developments,” Toalson said.
Under the requirements, new secondary roads must meet a certain “connectivity index,” which is a ratio of road segments to intersections. The higher the ratio the better, encouraging builders to lay out subdivision streets in a way that conform to a grid. The rules also call for narrower roads, reducing the allowable width by as much as seven feet.
“That basically requires everything to take on the look of the Fan, where everything is connected,” Toalson said.
“Every time a new development comes online, those are the first lots selected. In the future, there is not going to be any of those,” Toalson said.
Homes located on a cul-de-sac will become a hot commodity, because the requirements will cap the supply of such homes at their current level, said one real estate broker in a story by Fox Channel 5 in Washington.
Mort Gulak, a planning professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the new regulations’ biggest impact will be to improve traffic congestion.
“The main reason people are pushing for this now is to create more flexibility. With connectivity, you have options as to how you get in and out of neighborhoods,” Gulak said.
The cul-de-sac started its rise to prominence in the 1940s, but as they proliferated traffic congestion has become a growing problem, Gulak said. He said the concern that increased connectivity would direct more traffic through residential neighborhoods is a legitimate one, but he thinks creative planning is capable of addressing the issue.
“[The regulations don’t] change the business of home building, but it changes the business of creating neighborhoods,” Gulak said. “This is a whole different concept.”
Washington Post – In Virginia, Vision of Suburbia at a Crossroads
Greater Greater Washington – Virginia’s new street connectivity regulations: the specifics
Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. He covers commercial real esate and the home building industry for RBS. Please send story tips to [email protected].