City considering change to code regarding driveways

City Commissioners will consider a change to the land development code related to driveways during their Nov. 2 meeting.

The current code states: Alley Accessed Lots – For those properties which are served by an alley, no new driveways or expansions of existing driveways accessing the street are allowed unless authorized by both the city engineer and the director of planning and community development.

“The driving factor behind the proposed amendment to the driveway chapter of the land development code was a series of permit requests to construct street accessed driveways on properties located within the older neighborhoods that also have alley access. These requests brought to light a problematic provision within the driveway chapter,” according to the staff report.

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There are reasons why city codes restrict the ability of property owners to have street-accessed driveways when they already have alley access to parking areas and detached garages, including: preventing conflicts between vehicles backing out of driveways and vehicles using city streets; keeping the sidewalk network as intact as possible and reducing vehicle/pedestrian conflicts; and maintaining greenspace in the front yards and boulevards of older neighborhoods, according to the staff report.

But the current code provision for alley accessed lots is problematic because it both prohibits street accessed driveways in one passage, but allows city staff to override the code in the next passage.

“What is further problematic is that the provision does not provide any decision making criteria to assist city staff in potentially overriding the prohibition on street-accessed driveways,” according to the staff report.

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The proposed code would state: for those properties which are served by an alley, a single street-accessed
driveway is allowed. The owner must obtain a permit, and the driveway shall be limited to no greater than 12 feet in width. Such driveway must be surfaced and maintained with Portland cement concrete, asphaltic concrete, or pavers. no new driveways or expansions of existing driveways accessing the street are allowed unless authorized by both the city engineer and the director of planning and community development.

It may cause interruptions in the curb, sidewalk and front yard area, but a 12-foot wide driveway in the front yard will only consume 24 percent of a typical 50-foot wide lot in the older neighborhood areas of Great Falls, according to the staff report.

Staff is proposing the amendment because:

  • there are a number of street blocks within older neighborhoods where street-accessed driveways already exist despite the presence of alley accessed driveways and garages. This creates an equity challenge for staff to deny certain requests.
  • freeing up some additional street parallel parking spaces in favor of more on-site parking does allow for easier snow removal and street sweeping.
  • creating more options for property owners to move recreational vehicles, campers, and boats off the street network will allow those owners a better opportunity to comply with the large vehicle ordinance recently adopted by the commission.

The city planning board voted unanimously during a September meeting to recommend approval of the proposed amendment. Staff also recommends approval.