Land Planning

Public vs Private Streets?

In most site plans and tract maps, I would think that the streets are designed to be “public”, which means that the local jurisdiction will accept the future maintenance responsibility.  If the streets are “private”, it will typically mean that an HOA will assume the costs and responsibilities for maintenance.  You would think that a builder or developer would want to go with public streets, keeping HOA dues down and homes more marketable.  So why plan for private streets?

One reason is the plan to have a gated community.  I rarely see a city or county that will accept the street maintenance behind the gates.  A developer will typically do the market and economic analysis to determine the benefits of a gated community.  Elevated home prices in a gated community can outweigh the impact of higher HOA dues, resulting in the decision to plan for the private streets.

A second prime reason to opt for private streets has to do with the city/county street standards for public streets.  Street standards are generally referring to the width of streets, which can take up more land use and lower the density of a project.  As an example, a city street standard might be 56 feet in total right-of-way width.  This standard would provide for two travel lanes, parallel parking on each side, sidewalks, and an easement for public utilities.  Contrast that width with a private street of 26 to 30 feet and you have a lot more land being used to build homes.  I have seen many smaller infill projects where the site plan would be infeasible with the public streets and the narrower private streets become implemented in the design.

Keep in mind that the local fire department will have some standards for access.  All of this street design effort is part of the entitlement process and obtaining your project approvals.

If you have any experiences, comments, or questions, we welcome you to share with us below.

John Kaye has over 30 years experience within the land development and homebuilding industries, having held senior management positions with The Irvine Company, Koll Real Estate Group, and Brookfield Homes. As a developer, John has overseen the land acquisition, entitlements, and development of master planned communities, residential tracts, urban infill sites, and land assemblages. His experience and skill sets include land acquisition, land brokerage, project management, market analysis, finance, and strategic planning.

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