MOUNT AIRY — Is your neighborhood bedeviled by too many cars zooming down wide streets?
Blame it on the '60s.
That's when "automobile-dependent" land planning came into vogue,an architect said Wednesday.
"There's been an exclusive focus on the automobile," said Patrick Sutton of Kaplan Sutton & Associates, an architectural firm in Columbia, Howard County.
"I'd like to bring the pedestrian back into a place of importance."
Sutton gave a slide presentation at Town Hall to about a dozen people, including town and county officials and builders.
Planning that catered to the car allowed spacious streets and prompted builders to spread schools,pools and retail areas over great distances in a community, the architect said.
But wide streets are expensive, so developers build fewer of them to save money, Sutton said.
The result is lots of traffic on fewer, wider streets, exacerbated by residents' dependence on the car to get around.
A solution is for administrators to return to "pedestrian-based" planning, Sutton said, allowing developers to build narrower streets.
The narrowest two-lane street allowed by Mount Airy regulations is 34 feet, said Town Planner Teresa Merten.
A developer can build a narrower road but must get a variance, which can lengthen the process by as much as a month. And for builders, time is money.
Sutton suggested that administrators rewrite regulations to allow narrower streets.
"If it's going to take longer for (developers) to jump through the hoops, they're not going to do it," hesaid.
But narrower streets mean denser development. And that's just what some administrators have been trying to avoid these days. A builder must be willing to plow money saved from streets back into thedevelopment in the form of amenities, such as lighting and landscaping, or in reduced home costs, Sutton said.
Therein lies the rub.
"Some (builders) are going to take the money and run," said Councilman Marcum Nance, who chairs the Town Council's streets and roads committees. "Others will see an opportunity to build a lower-cost house."
Said Planning Commission Chairman Fred Goundry, "We've got to expect developers to use a little more creativity. The more we give in this regard, the more we should expect."
Merten is working on a proposal for revised street-width regulations, which may come before the council in the coming months.
But not everyone is taken with theidea of mandating narrower streets.
Councilman Oliver Davis, who's also a member of the Planning Commission, said he was unimpressed with the presentation. While he generally supports narrower streets, Davis said, he doesn't think they should be mandated.
"I'm not going to say every development has to have narrower streets," said Davis,adding the town should continue to consider variances on a case-by-case basis.