When you think of subdivisions, what comes to mind? Well, it’s literally a large piece of land subdivided into parcels meant for individual ownership. William Levitt is credited with the 20th century version, planning and building entire communities after World War II to meet the huge demand for affordable housing when the veterans came home and started the Baby Boom. The houses in Levittown were uniform in design and more than affordable; many of them are still standing today.
Subdivisions resemble miniature cities in some ways. They can feature their own form of governance, such as homeowners associations, and each has its own infrastructure from roads to utilities. Like with all infrastructure, maintenance is a necessity, and when it comes to who performs the maintenance, it differs from subdivision to subdivision. In some cases, the HOA may oversee the care of said infrastructure, often working with contractors to handle repair tasks. In some cases, developers may handle maintenance for a time. In some locales, cities are responsible for upkeep or later assume that responsibility.
Reasons for cities to assume the maintenance of subdivision infrastructure vary as do their methods for rolling them into existing maintenance plans. Each method has its challenges, whether it’s taking over roads, stormwater, sidewalks and more. All require careful planning and much discussion among the experts in a city government.
Last January, during a meeting of the Berea, Ky., City Council, Amanda Haney, who serves as the planning and codes administrator, made a request for the city to accept street and road construction into the Infrastructure Maintenance Program at the Stoney Creek Subdivision.
In the year since then, Haney said, “Yes, the subdivision’s infrastructure for this particular phase was accepted at that city council meeting. In our city, once a subdivision reaches 75% built out, the developer is able to request the infrastructure of sewer, water and streets be accepted into city maintenance. At that point, Stoney Creek Subdivision had met all the requirements, and all infrastructure had passed the inspections for proper installation.”
At the same meeting, there was an announcement that turn lanes would be installed, lessening any bottlenecks or other traffic issues. Haney noted, “Yes, the turn lanes were installed on time, and that detail was completed in November. We anticipated the residents of the subdivision would be happy to get the turn lanes for safer entrance and exit of the subdivision.”
Haney said the project was “funded by the developer of the subdivision and permitted through the state transportation cabinet.” No small feat: Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet is responsible for maintaining and improving the transportation infrastructure of the Commonwealth. According to the Kentucky.gov page, this includes 27,438 miles of roads, 160 licensed airports, 23 public transportation systems and with the registration of 2.7 million licensed drivers and 3.4 million vehicles annually.
On the East Coast, Hadley, Mass., received a request from Rocky Hill Road, an almost 20-year-old housing subdivision that had been a private way. Residents hoped their private road could become a town road, which would mean services such as snowplowing and routine maintenance would be handled by the Hadley Department of Public Works. At the planning board meeting in January 2023, Chairman James Maksimoski noted it would be a challenge to take on the road, particularly because the as-built plans would be needed and their existence was unknown. In fact, several years prior, a contractor using plans to determine where to safely dig struck and damaged utility lines when he came across lines that weren’t — according to the plans used — supposed to be there.
“This (the roadway) was just accepted in October. There were some concerns about the asphalt plans not being correct. They were rechecked and recorrected, and everything was found to be okay. It was just a matter for the department of public works superintendent. It’s all good and all correct; all is built according to the subdivision to accept as standing,” said Maksimoski.
He further explained, “Everyone goes by the same general rules. Each town has a unique set of minor rules that have to be in place. And the state law has guidelines to make minor adjustments as needed, but they can’t be ridiculous ones.” It has to make practical sense and call for a good, workable solution. Fortunately, Hadley had just that, and everything proceeded according to plan.
Often, having a plan is the best approach for municipalities when approaching subdivisions.
Dayton, Va., has been working toward creating updated requirements for new subdivisions that would, among other assets and benefits, help the town maintain a consistent look. Considered plans would require sidewalks on both sides of the road and driveways to be made of specific materials; this is a good example of foresight for future building projects. The requirements would also set guidelines for who manages stormwater maintenance.
In an interview with WHSV 3, Dayton’s Community Development coordinator Christa Hall said, “We would like to see that it transfers into a property owners association. So this ordinance will require that at 75% of the build-out of the lots within the development, the storm-water maintenance facility would be turned over to an HOA-type situation.”
In Colorado, the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan guides what gravel and paved are accepted for maintenance in unincorporated parts of the county. Boulder County’s website notes, “The BCCP stipulates that funding for major repairs should be prioritized for the county’s arterial and collector roadways and that funding of major repairs for ‘local access roadways’ (aka ‘subdivision roads’) shall be the responsibility of those served by the road. Basically, funding is focused on roads that serve the most people and provide critical regional connections.”
The county’s frequently asked questions section about subdivision paving and local access road maintenance section further notes that while major work won’t be done, its crews will still conduct operations on such roads. These actions could include snow removal; pothole patching; clearing of ditches, culverts and other drainage structures; replacement/repairs of sidewalks; and roadway crack sealing and patching to maintain public safety.
In 2014, the county determined that some subdivision roads serve more than just those people who live in the area, particularly those providing access to trailheads, places of worship, schools, etc.
The county’s website notes, “We call these ‘Community Use Roads (CUR),’ and the Board of County Commissioners agreed that the county should do more to help with them. There are approximately 25 miles of CUR in the county that benefit the greater community and the county has allocated an average of one to two million dollars annually to the rehabilitation of these roads. Roads we’ve repaired include Linden Drive, Heatherwood Drive, Twin Lakes Road, Carter Trail, Longview Drive, and Westview Drive, among others. The county plans on continuing to work on repairing these roads as funding allows over the coming years.” With their long history, subdivisions will continue to provide housing across the country — a need in many communities. Building relationships with their residents and creating guidelines in advance can smooth future headaches with maintenance. And should a city choose to take over maintenance of some infrastructure, it is vital to have a plan in place beforehand.