Board of Supervisors Meeting Date:

R. Holder Trumbo, Jr., Vice-Chairman,
Scott District Supervisor


October 9, 2008

Staff Lead:


Kimberley Johnson, Zoning Administrator

Community Development



A Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment to Article VII to Establish a Limitation on the Length of Dead-End Streets Within the Zoning Ordinance; and to Sections 12-607 and 15-300 of the Zoning Ordinance and Sections 2-6, 3-2 and 5-8 of the Subdivision Ordinance to Change the Definition of Cul-de-Sac, Add a Definition for Dead-End Street, and to Reference Dead-End Street Requirements in Article VII of the Zoning Ordinance

Topic Description: 

The proposed amendment would establish a limitation on the length of all dead-end streets at 700 feet within Service Districts and 1,320 feet outside of Service Districts, with a maximum of 20 lots served, and move all requirements related to dead-end street length to a consolidated location within the Zoning Ordinance.  The amendment also establishes a process and standards for waiving the limitation, to include an administrative process for streets associated with family transfers, large lot divisions, utility lot divisions, public lot divisions, commercial/industrial lot divisions, administrative divisions, boundary line adjustments, and site plans.  The Planning Commission is given the authority for all other waivers.  

The proposed text amendment also seeks to clarify all requirements related to dead-end street length, changing the language within the Subdivision and Zoning Ordinances to clarify the definition of “dead-end streets” and “cul-de-sacs” to make both ordinances consistent; clarifying how the length of dead-end streets is measured; and clarifying that rules related to cul-de-sac street design apply to all dead-end streets, regardless of the type of turnaround. 

Requested Action of the Board of Supervisors:

Conduct a public hearing and consider adoption of the attached Ordinance.


 Financial Impact Analysis:

No financial impact analysis has been conducted.


Summary Staff Report: 

The dead-end street is a street that is open only at one end, with the open end connected to a through street and a turnaround at the other end.  The purpose of the dead-end street is to provide access to a limited number of lots or buildings. 

Existing Regulations

The County’s existing regulations on maximum dead-end street lengths are contained in Sections 2-6 and 5-8 of the Subdivision Ordinance, except those related to Site Plans, which are contained in Section 12-607 of the Zoning Ordinance.  The existing requirements, including the waiver procedures, are summarized in the table below.

Existing Dead-End Street Length Limitations

1.         Family Transfer, Large Lot, Utility, Public and Commercial/Industrial              Lot Divisions

            No limit.

2.         Administrative Divisions

1,000 foot limit, may be increased by waiver to 5,000 feet upon a finding that: 1) properties through which the right-of way will pass will not be unreasonably affected; 2) no alternative for providing access is realistically feasible, and 3) without the modification the 1,000 foot limitation places an unreasonable restriction on the use of the property.

3.         Boundary Line Adjustments:

            Not addressed by Ordinance.

4.         All Other Divisions:

700 foot limit, may be increased by waiver from Planning Commission whenever because of unequal size, topography, or shape of the property or other unusual condition not resulting from the developer's deliberate act, a strict compliance with the requirements of this Ordinance would result in extraordinary hardship to the developer, or wherever standards for waiver of specific provisions of this Ordinance by the Planning Commission are set forth, the Planning Commission may vary, modify or waive the requirements so that substantial justice may be done and the public interest secured; provided that such variance, modification, or waiver will not have the effect of nullifying the intent and purpose of these regulations or interfering with implementing the Comprehensive Plan of Fauquier County.

5.         Site Plans:

             700 foot limit may be extended by the Director within reasonable limits based on physical design conditions.



Limits on the number and length of dead-end streets are a fundamental precept underlying street network planning and contribute to the broader goal of increasing connectivity within street networks.   Street connectivity has important implications for travel choices and emergency access, and therefore connectivity has long been considered a critical goal of street networks, addressed both in local land development and Virginia Department of Transportation regulations.  While dead-end streets can exist within a connected network, to maintain connectivity their use must be limited and carefully planned.  A review of the advantages and disadvantages of dead-end streets, from a land use perspective, was provided in a 1985 Planners Advisory Service memo published by the American Planning Association and is summarized in the table below.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Dead-End Streets


  • Traffic volume is reduced because there is no through traffic.
  • Traffic will likely travel more slowly because through traffic is eliminated.
  • There is less traffic noise because the amount of traffic is reduced.
  • Privacy, safety, and the value of lots along the street are increased because traffic volume, speed, and noise are reduced.
  • One or more lots may be placed in the corner of a subdivision on parcels that otherwise might not have adequate frontage, resulting in more efficient use of space and fewer irregular parcels.
  • Frontage is available on the end of the street as well as along its length.


  • Access to interior lots can be blocked at the open end of a dead-end street or along the cul-de-sac "spine" by an accident, stalled car or truck, fallen tree, snow pile, or construction.
  • Traffic at the open end can be excessive if the street is long and access is provided to a large number of lots or buildings.
  • Long cul-de-sacs (more than 500 feet) reduce the advantages since they may encourage increased traffic speeds and mid-block turning to reverse direction, turning that is frequently done in private driveways.
  • Traffic has to double back, which is especially inefficient for delivery people, emergency equipment, snow plows, and service vehicles.
  • Dead-end water mains encourage sedimentation and can be clogged or broken, resulting in reduced water pressure or no water service, which adds to fire hazards.
  • Fire equipment, trucks, and public works equipment have difficulty maneuvering.
  • Insufficient water pressure for fire fighting often results when hydrants are located only on the outside through street or, if on the cul-de-sac, are inaccessible when the entrance is blocked. Furthermore, these conditions necessitate the use of long fire hoses, which may lower pressure and discharge rates.
  • The first equipment arriving at a fire may block equipment arriving later or interfere with the maneuvering of equipment.
  • The circulation plan is frequently confusing.

Source:  Standards for Dead-End Streets, PAS Memo, American Planning Association, 1985.


Specific standards related to dead-end street length have evolved over many years, beginning in 1939, when the American Society of Civil Engineers Committee of the City Planning and Subdivision recommended that dead-end streets not exceed 300 feet in length.  Over time, standards promulgated by a variety of groups, including the American Planning Association, American Society of Civil Engineers, National Association of Home Builders, Urban Land Institute, have typically recommended between 300 feet and 600 feet in length, with longer lengths supported in some circumstances, such as large lots or difficult terrain.

Maximum Length

The proposed text amendment changes the limits for length of dead-end streets from 700 feet for subdivisions and site plans and 1000 feet for administrative divisions to 700 feet in Service Districts and 1,320 feet outside Service Districts, with an additional limit of no more than 20 lots served.  The new limits are proposed to apply to all land divisions and development, including family transfers, large-lots, utility lots, public lots, commercial/industrial lots, and boundary line adjustments.

In general, traffic volume, and correspondingly, the number of housing units on the street are considered to be key factors for determining the appropriate length of dead-end streets, as such streets are most typical in residential development.  The 3rd Edition of Residential Streets, published in 2001 in collaboration between the National Association of Home Builders, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Urban Land Institute recommends that a dead-end street handle no more than 200 vehicle trips per day, which translates to roughly a maximum of 20 single family units. A 1975 Association of Planning Officials recommendation was for no more than 14 lots on a dead-end street.  Other sources suggest lower volumes, as low as 10 single family units (Geometric Design Guide for Local Roads and Streets, Cost Effective Site Planning) or even 7 single family units (Performance Streets, ITE Recommended Practices).  

The table below shows the estimated street length that would be appropriate for different size lots, as established by the Fauquier County zoning classifications, for 10 to 20 single family lots.

Estimated Street Length Relative to Lot Width Requirements

Lot Width

Applicable Zoning Districts

Length for 10 Lots

Length for 20 Lots

70 feet

R-2 Cluster and R-4 Conventional

140 feet

490 feet

90 feet

RR-2 & R-1 Cluster Lots; V & R-2 Conventional Lots

270 feet

720 feet

135 feet

Family Transfer and Admin Lots in all districts, plus R-1 Conventional Lots

405 feet

1080 feet

200 feet

RC/RA Cluster Lots

800 feet

1800 feet

300 feet

RA Large Lots

1200 feet

2700 feet

400 feet

RC Large Lots

1700 feet

3700 feet

The lengths presented in this table are based on the assumptions that lots are the minimum width allowed and only one dwelling is located on each lot.  These assumptions do not reflect the fact that Fauquier County has relatively liberal accessory dwelling unit provisions, making the assumption of only a single unit on each lot unrealistic in many cases, particularly on large rural lots.   Multiple units on a lot, whether tenant houses, family dwellings or accessory apartments, would support shorter lengths than those shown in the table.  The County’s relatively liberal home occupation regulations, which allow clients to come on-site, might also contribute to higher traffic volumes than typically expected.  On the other hand, minimum lot widths were used to create the estimates in the table, and, in fact, some lots do occupy more width, leading to longer streets with no increase in lots; this is particularly likely to be true in the rural areas.   

The table looks solely at lengths relative to the number of trips likely to occur on a dead-end street.  The table does not take into affect emergency services impacts, efficiency, and contribution to connectivity in the overall network, which are impacted regardless of the number of trips that may occur on a particular dead-end street.  These other factors should also reasonably be considered when establishing appropriate street length limits.

Evaluated against trip generation, Fauquier County’s existing limit of 700 feet for most cases seems appropriate, accommodating at least 10 lots in most zoning districts and 20 lots in many of the districts, except for large-lot divisions in the rural district. 

These numbers suggest that the County’s current limit of 700 feet for dead-end street length is probably within an appropriate range, particularly within Service Districts where smaller lots are anticipated, and even outside service districts on both rural cluster lots as well as within other zoning designations.  It further suggests that somewhat longer street lengths (1,200-1,600 feet) may be an appropriate starting point for rural subdivisions when considering traffic generation. 

Staff looked extensively at the issue of dead-end street length with a group of private engineers while working on the Transportation Chapter of the Design Standards Manual, which is now before the Planning Commission for review.   The recommended dead-end street length standard that emerged from that work is consistent with the concepts discussed above.  The recommendation was:

Dead-end streets shall not exceed seven hundred (700) feet in length within Service Districts and one thousand three hundred twenty (1,320) feet in length in all other areas of the county.

The Committee concluded that the existing limitation of 700 feet was reasonable within Service Districts, but that a somewhat longer length might be appropriate in rural areas.  The 1,320 feet was recommended because it is ¼ mile, a comfortable walking distance.   It should be noted that the Committee did not specifically look at the applicability of the rule to family transfer lots, large lots, public/utility lots or boundary line adjustments.

The text amendment proposes that dead-end streets be limited to 700 feet within Service Districts, regardless of how they are created.  Family transfer lots, public/utility lots and boundary line adjustments, which currently have no limits would therefore be limited to a street length of 700 feet within service districts.  Administrative lots, which are now limited to 1,000 feet, would also be subject to the 700 foot limit within Service Districts.

The recommended length limit for dead-end streets outside of Service Districts is 1,320 feet.  The limit would apply to streets serving family transfers, administrative lots, public/utility lots, large lots and boundary line adjustments.   At the Planning Commission public hearing, some concerns were raised about applying the standard to large lots and family transfers, particularly in the rural areas.  Staff agrees that it is more likely that a family transfer or large lot in the rural areas may be more likely to require a longer street length because of topographic and environmental challenges, and also because of the sheer size of some large lots.  However, there remain cases where the longer length does raise issues.  For example, a two-mile long road serving two 200-acre large lots raises fewer health and safety issues when it serves only two lots, and that such longer length for individual lots or a small number of lots may be appropriate.  However, each of these lots could in turn be divided into as many as 10 new lots under the sliding scale.  Allowing the two large lots that are able to be further divided at the end of a long road therefore sets up a potential problem for the future.  In staff’s opinion, these types of issues are best evaluated on a case-by-case basis as part of a clear waiver process.

Staff is recommending an additional limitation that no more than 20 lots be served by any dead-end street.  Without this additional limitation, it would be possible in the County’s denser zoning districts for a subdivision to be laid out with “overlapping” dead-end streets, where no one street exceeded the length limitation but significantly more lots could be achieved.  

Flexibility to achieve longer lengths for all application types under certain circumstances is available through a revised and expanded waiver process.       


The proposed text amendment also establishes clear mechanisms and standards for waivers to the 700 foot and 1,320 foot length limits.   The waiver procedures are intended to give more flexibility, particularly in rural situations where it would be expected that longer lengths may be appropriate for a variety of reasons.  

In the County’s existing regulations, authority is given to the Director, acting as Subdivision Agent, to waive the 1,000 foot limit for administrative divisions up to a maximum of 5,000 feet, subject to the following standards:  1) that properties through which the right-of way will pass will not be unreasonably affected; 2) that no alternative for providing access is realistically feasible, and 3) that without the modification the 1,000 foot limitation places an unreasonable restriction on the use of the property.

The Director is also given the authority, under the Zoning Ordinance, to waive the 700 foot limit for dead-end streets associated with site plans.  The standard set forth in the Ordinance in this case is: within reasonable limits based on physical design conditions.

No specific waiver provisions are provided in the Ordinances for waiving street length limits in other cases, but because the length limitation can be waived by the Planning Commission under the general authority the Commission has to grant waivers from any provision of the Ordinance.  The standards for the general waiver are:

Whenever, because of unequal size, topography, or shape of the property or other unusual condition not resulting from the developer’s deliberate act, a strict compliance with the requirements of this Ordinance would result in extraordinary hardship to the developer, or wherever standards for waiver of specific provisions of this Ordinance by the Planning Commission are set forth, the Planning Commission may vary, modify or waive the requirements so that substantial justice may be done and the public interest secured; provided that such variance, modification, or waiver will not have the effect of nullifying the intent and purpose of these regulations or interfering with implementing the Comprehensive Plan of Fauquier County.

The recommended waiver provisions maintain the Director as the authority for approving street length waivers for Administrative Divisions and Site Plans and extends that authority to all other administratively approved divisions (family transfers, large lots, utility lots, public lots and commercial/industrial lots) and boundary line adjustments, up to a maximum of 1,320 feet in the Service Districts and 5,000 feet outside of the Service Districts, subject to newly defined standards.  

For all other cases, the Board of Supervisors is recommended to hold the authority to grant the waivers, with a recommendation from the Planning Commission.

Specific standards for street length are proposed, as the requirement will now be in the Zoning Ordinance and the general Subdivision Ordinance waiver provisions would no longer apply.  The proposed standards for authorizing increases in dead-end street width are:


            All of the following criteria are met:

·         properties through which access is planned will not be unreasonably affected; and

·         to not modify the limitation would constitute a hardship not allowing reasonable use of the property;

And at least one of the following criteria is met:

·         plausible alternatives have been exhausted and no other  remedy is realistically feasible; or

·         plausible alternatives are less desirable because of impacts on steep slopes, floodplain, wetlands, historic resources or other environmental, cultural or historic resources.


The method for measuring the length of a dead-end street has not previously been explained in County regulations and has created some confusion.  The proposed text amendment provides details on how street length is to be measured in the Zoning Ordinance.  It is anticipated that when a Transportation chapter of the Design Standards Manual (DSM) is ultimately adopted by the County these more technical details will be relocated to the DSM.


Currently, the definitions for cul-de-sac, although similar, are not the same in the Subdivision and Zoning Ordinances.  In addition, “cul-de-sac” is used inconsistently in both ordinances, sometimes referring to the entirety of a dead-end street and sometimes referring to the actual bulb that forms the turnaround at the end of a dead-end street.  This text amendment provides the following consistent definitions for both “dead-end streets” and “cul-de-sacs”  in each ordinance:

CUL-DE-SAC: A circular turnaround at the end of a street.

DEAD-END STREET: A street, one end of which is closed and has an appropriate turnaround area for a safe and convenient reverse of traffic movement.


This text amendment deletes the dead-end street length requirements from the Subdivision Ordinance, providing instead a reference in the Subdivision Ordinance to the standards now contained in Article 7 of the Zoning Ordinance.

In addition, the existing Zoning Ordinance regulations set forth cul-de-sac requirements for site plan approvals in Article 12.  These site plan cul-de-sac requirements actually referred to all dead-end streets and, in any case, will also be redundant with the approval of the companion text amendment.  This text amendment therefore deletes the detailed requirements for cul-de-sacs from Article 12 of the Zoning Ordinance, providing instead a reference to Article 7 of the Zoning Ordinance.


The Board of Supervisors initiated the proposed text amendment on February 14, 2008, with the Planning Commission initiating additional changes and clarifications related to the amendment on April 24, 2008.  The Planning Commission held a work session and the first public hearing on the proposed text amendments on June 26, 2008.  A second public hearing was held by the Planning Commission on August 28, 2008, after which the Commission unanimously recommended approval of the text amendment.

Identify any other Departments, Organizations or Individuals that would be affected by this request:


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