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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
large lots or difficult terrain.
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
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
Applicable Zoning Districts
Length for 10 Lots
Length for 20 Lots
R-2 Cluster and R-4 Conventional
RR-2 & R-1 Cluster Lots; V & R-2 Conventional Lots
Family Transfer and Admin Lots in all districts,
plus R-1 Conventional Lots
RC/RA Cluster Lots
RA Large Lots
RC Large Lots
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
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:
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:
A circular turnaround at the end of 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
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.