The Fairfax City Council will consider on May 28 a proposal that could severely restrict the number of private roads the city will accept into its public street maintenance system.
Residents living in the Great Oaks and Comstock subdivisions are asking city officials to take over the upkeep of several private roads, which would shift the financial burden of street repairs to the city.
Currently, developments with private access roads are responsible for their own street maintenance, lighting, snow removal, speed enforcement and parking regulations.
Kathryn A. Melvin, who has lived in the Comstock town house subdivision for 10 years, said she wants the same city services as residents on public accesses.
"If a car is parked illegally or someone is causing a problem in the community, we can't get police to come in," Melvin said. "We're not getting the benefits of our taxes."
The proposed ordinance would require subdivisions to pay for upgrading their private roads to city standards before the city assumes any future financial responsibilities. The public works department requires streets to have a surface width of 36 feet and concrete curbs and gutters, storm sewers and adequate drainage, among others.
Peggy T. Wagner, the city's planning director, who favors strengthening the standards, said accepting the older private streets would undermine the city's zoning laws and set a costly precedent for its public street repair policy.
On April 22 the planning commission recommended denial of the proposed ordinance and said the city should provide more flexibility in allowing the private roads into the city's street system.
But Wagner cautioned against being too lenient with the city's standards for subdivisions with deteriorating private streets. "If we establish a liberal policy of taking streets in that do not fully meet the city's and state standards, it could cost a lot more money for Fairfax City ," Wagner said. "Most of the roads we would take in don't meet the city's standards."
An official with the city's public works department, who asked not to be identified, said most of the private roads are "glorified driveways and parking lots. What do you do when these streets begin to break up? We would have to fix up the streets and repave . . . costing the city money it was not anticipating," said the official. "When you let the first waiver and variance pass on the private street, well, where do you draw the line?"
Carl Hemmer, who lives in the Great Oaks subdivision off Old Lee Highway (Rte. 237), said the City Council created private streets to lure developers to the area. Developers can benefit from private streets by passing along maintenance of the roads to property owners, usually through a homeowners association that takes responsibility for speed and parking enforcement and road improvements in the subdivision.
Hemmer, a former City Council member, said his homeowners association fee is for lawn and pool care. He said new residents do not realize that living on a private street means street repair or snow removal costs are shifted to the neighborhood association.
"We pay the same tax rate as residents who live on public streets , but we don't get the same services," Hemmer said in a telephone interview. "I can see no other rationale for the private streets other than the desire for the city to encourage developers to build houses here."
Council member Gene P. Moore, who lives in the Old Fairfax Mews town house subdivision off Rte. 123, said homeowners should know the ramifications of living on a private street.
"There were covenants in their housing contract that said the streets were private," Moore said. "If people say they are not privy to city service, it's their settlement lawyer's fault or their own."