Residential land development goes 'green' with new standards

July 10, 2007

A team of Penn State engineers, builders and planners have created a new set of standards that allow for a sustainable approach to residential land development.

The guidelines, Pennsylvania Standards for Residential Site Development, were produced by the College of Engineering's Pennsylvania Housing Research Center (PHRC) with support from the Department of Landscape Architecture's Hamer Center for Community Design.

According to Alexander Duran, a land use and development specialist with the PHRC, the document is designed to offer municipalities across the state a set of model subdivision and land development ordinances that can be adopted at the local level.

The new document includes land subdivision standards for site design, residential streets, parking, trails and sidewalks, bike paths, storm water management, potable water systems, wastewater utilities and other utilities. It was developed over the course of two years with the help of state and local agencies, professional engineering and landscape architectural firms and environmental organizations.

"You might find a subdivision project that is located at the boundary of three different municipalities, all of which could have three different land development ordinances," Duran said. "The street widths might have to change as you cross from one municipality to another. The number of sidewalks or the requirement for sidewalks may change from one municipality to another. This makes for a very patchwork look and makes it difficult for the development process to occur."

For example, the researchers found that the specified width of a street featuring on-street parking and curbs around Pennsylvania ranged from 30 to 36 feet. In the new standards, the engineers recommend that streets with parking be 26 feet wide and streets without parking be 18 feet wide.

"The cost per linear foot of a 36-foot-wide residential access street is around $180, not including the utilities -- it's a major infrastructure cost," Duran stated. He explained that a narrower street cuts down on the amount of land needed for the roadway, creates less storm water runoff, uses less construction material, requires less year-round maintenance and reduces speeding by motorists.

"We looked at ordinances throughout Pennsylvania and picked the best science and engineering elements from among them," Duran said. "The hope is that with widespread adoption of this set of land development standards -- low impact, sustainable development -- will be promoted."

He added that the standards are flexible and the engineers plan to continually update the standards with newer best practices and techniques.

More information on the standards can be found at www.engr.psu.edu/phrc online.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009