Inferiority Street Complex?

City: Tough To Regulate ‘Substandard’ Roadways

Posted: September 28, 2013

Fir Street is what Harrisonburg denotes as a “substandard” street, meaning one that doesn’t have a curb or gutter and isn’t a priority for plowing when it snows. The city is looking into how it regulates these streets and what the requirement for developers should be. (Photo by Jason Lenhart)
HARRISONBURG — The city wants the application of its street design requirements to be anything but substandard.

City Council this week granted a homeowner’s request to improve Fir Street below city requirements so he can construct a single-family home at the southern end of it.

Fir Street is classified as a “substandard” city street, and the situation is the latest development along such streets that now has the city reviewing its requirements.

When a developer wants to construct a house that fronts a substandard street, he or she must improve that part of the road to the set city custom: that means 26 feet of pavement width, plus curb and gutter and sidewalks.

Not all city substandard streets are the same or would even strike you as “substandard.” The little-traveled Fir Street, near Maryland Avenue, might because it’s only about 12 feet wide at some points and has no curb, gutter or sidewalk.

Yet the well-traveled Circle Drive nearby wouldn’t, for example. It lacks curb and gutter and sidewalk.

In the last five years or so, city staff incorporated the requirement to build substandard streets to Harrisonburg design regulations in its governing manual.

Once a home was built on a substandard street and either had been occupied for several years or sold, there was a tendency for the owner to question why the street wasn’t as wide as others or had drainage issues, said Stacy Turner, Harrisonburg’s director of planning and community development.

Certain city services, such as plowing snow and leaf pick up, also may not be a priority or offered on substandard streets.

“They may wonder, ‘I’m paying the same taxes as everybody else, I should probably have the same services,’” Turner said to City Council this week.

But it’s difficult to offer all services on narrower substandard streets, and issues are compounded with continued construction along the roads, she said.

That made the building requirement of 26 feet of pavement, curb and gutter and sidewalk necessary. If a developer disagrees, he or she can seek a variance from the city, such as in the Fir Street case.

“While I understand the city’s desire to ensure safe and appropriate access, strict application [of the standard] in my situation is not necessary to achieve that goal,” landowner Hugh Stoll wrote to the city.

Officials agreed, and ask that he build Fir Street to 20 feet in width, instead of 26, from New York Avenue to his driveway.

In an interview, Turner said variance requests normally come from developers looking to build multiple homes.

“It’s not a huge issue,” she said, “but if it’s you, you think it’s a huge issue. It is a problem for city staff when it comes up and you try to determine how to apply the standard.”

Potential amendments to the requirement have not yet been prepared.
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or

NDN Video News