The Town of Walkersville’s Planning Commission asked the Burgess and Town Commissioners for their permission to explore modifying the Town’s Design Manual. Specifically, they would like to allow for more narrow streets and change cul-de-sac length requirments within neighborhoods. The issue continues to rise during site plan reviews when developers have to meet Maryland storm run-off requirements due to the amount of pavement the Town of Walkersville requirements.
Last week, developers of the Bell Farm on Fountain Rock Road presented their updated plans during a public workshop. The Planning Commission asked them to move homes and eliminate one road to get closer to the maximum cul-de-sac length of 800 feet. With the changes, they estimated the length would still be 20 feet too long. The conversation led to the required road width of 32 feet. Planning Commission member Dick Brady asked if a width of 28 feet would help the developer by reducing the amount of space to catch storm water run-off. The members discussed the merits of narrower roads slowing traffic and reducing the amount of impervious surface.
After much discussion about similar requests by developers, the Planning Commission voted to ask the Burgess and Town Commissioners for a directive to propose changes. They proposed that they could leave main roads at 32 feet wide, but allow for secondary roads to be as narrow as 28 feet wide. The Town’s engineer concurred that this would be acceptable for roads with less traffic and would still allow for parking on one side of a street. The Planning Commission asked the development’s project manager, Jonathan Soule, to provide an example of the proposed development with narrower secondary roads (see image left).
Town Commissioner Donald Schildt raised his objections to the changes immediately. He gave measurements from various streets around town, and found that most streets were closer to 32 feet wide. He mentioned speed issues at the most narrow street he measured. Finally, Commissioner Schildt asserted that the State of Maryland and federal government “will change their regulations anytime they want,” and the town should not change designs at their whims.
Burgess Whitmore brought his own measurements which conflicted a bit with Commissioner Schildt’s. Whitmore posited that narrow streets slow traffic, and noted that speed complaints make up a large number of complaints by citizens. After debating the issues with Commissioner Schildt, Whitmore asked the commissioners for a vote to direct the Planning Commission to make recommendations. Commissioner Weddle supported the motion, but felt that any recommended changes would not be approved. Commissioner Winch approved the request despite his hesitation to reduce road widths. Winch said the impact on storm water run-off may change his mind. Commissioners Gary Baker and Debbie Zimmerman also approved.
Next the Walkersville Planning Commission will study the issue and make recommendations for changing the Town’s Design Manual.