Subdivision Code Update

The information I am presenting here is grouped into three sections (click here to see 22 min video of this report presented to the Planning Commission):

1) An update on the first phase of this project – the analysis of our existing conditions. I will be presenting information illustrating how our current subdivision regulations are influencing the neighborhoods being created in our community;

2) I will review some of the opportunities that I see for improvements to our Code, many of which are the result of concrete actions already taken by staff and applicants to improve the livability of our neighborhoods. Staff will be seeking input and direction form the Planning Commission on these items; and,

3) The third item is a review of the limitations we are currently faced with in our short plat regulations. Again staff will be getting input from the Planning Commission for these items.

Update on findings - existing conditions

This analysis of existing conditions involved reviewing the following items:
  • past plats
  • recent plat history (since 2000)
  • neighborhood characteristics
  • mapping
  • site visits
It is important to note that this phase did not examine the details of the existing Municipal Code, nor engineering requirements, or Low Impact Development Techniques, which will all be reviewed later on in the project.

The focus was on neighborhood function and design and how our current regulations are influencing these.

For a significant portion of the analysis I used a mapping process called “delayering” to highlight specific characteristics.

Also, the ½ mile walking radius was used as a barometer of sorts, to provide insights into the effects design decisions are having.


We are used to examining our city with complex maps.

In fact, with the ability to generate more and more information, we often fall into the trap of increasing the complexity of what is being represented; sacrificing clarity, for comprehensiveness.

The process of “delayering” allows us to develop maps that aid in clarity by highlighting specific characteristics.

highway - streets

This is essentially the “base map”, showing the street network and State Route-20 for reference.

In the most general terms, the historic development of the street and block patterns have changed from grid based, east of SR-20, to more curvilinear patterns, west of the highway.


For the “delayering” analysis three types of streets were identified. This categorization was based on the relative impact they have on walkability.

In order of generally most to least walkable are the white local streets, the red “border” minor arterial streets and, and finally the blue “barrier” street of the highway.

These border streets divide the city into the neighborhood planning areas defined in the Comp Plan.


As per the Code, the streets shown here require a 25ft landscape buffer to neighboring uses.

walking radius

This is the ½ mile “walking radius” superimposed on our “base map” to illustrate the scale of this in relation to our community.

As one can see, our city is relatively compact an could be predominantly pedestrian oriented. The topography and natural features of Oak Harbor also provide few significant obstacles to this possibility.


The red dots illustrate the cul-de-sacs and dead ends within our street network.

While these can have benefits of reduced vehicular traffic, and a perception of increased safety for residences adjacent to them; each one of these also represents a block in the street network that impedes movement and can increase overall dependency on vehicles.


Over time, the city has developed with more cul-de-sacs and dead ends as can been seen in the concentration of dots in the newer neighborhoods west of State Route-20.

This is impacting the effectiveness of the street network for both vehicular and non-vehicular traffic.

ends - walkability

The concentration of dead ends within the walking radii is significantly greater in the newer neighborhoods; and when combined with the “border” streets one can see how movement is greatly impeded in these areas.


If we look at the pattern of intersections within our city we see this image.

These intersections are places for options, where we can chose to travel in one direction or another, providing a variety of paths to take to our destination.

intersections - options

By comparing newer to older areas of the community we see that there appears to be only slightly more options or variety of paths that can be taken.

However, when considered in combination with the greater number of dead ends previously shown, we see that these options do not provide for a more robust or interconnected network.


This map is intended to show the network of streets in terms of their relative efficiency as a travel route, with the assumption that more direct routes are superior.

Streets that connect border streets with four or less changes in direction are shown in orange.

With these streets we can begin to see how street patterns, intersections and dead ends combine to provide a network that is more or less practical for traffic movement, especially non-vehicular traffic.

The street networks in more recent subdivisions are more disjointed and provide less practical options than those of historic areas.


The green shapes represent the public parks within our city.

parks - access

A standard measure of access to parks, or level of service, involves superimposing the walking radius over each park to see the area it serves.

The result is a map that shows that the entire community is well served.

civic and schools

Here are Oak Harbor's schools and civic buildings.

civic and schools - access

Their respective walking radii are shown in this image.

walking distance

Since people can not travel as the crow flies, the walking radius is not an effective measure of access.

The highlighted streets show the actual ½ mile walking distance when the effects of: curvilinear streets; dead ends; and border streets are considered.

walking distance

The same is true for this park.

walking distance

The spidery streets radiating from Smith Park, shows how the more grid-like pattern of the older parts of the city can provide superior access within ½ mile walking distance.

The same is of course true for schools and civic locations.


The following outlines the findings of the review of:

  • Past plats
  • Recent Plat History (since 2000)
  • Neighborhood characteristics
  • Site visits

plat type

Planned Residential Developments – or PRDs provide greater flexibility in subdivision design over the “standard plat” process. This flexibility requires superior architectural or landscape design, open space, and environmental protection.

While PRDS were not an option for the majority of Oak Harbor’s history, in recent years their use has increased, and is significantly influencing our neighborhoods.

PRDs also afford staff the opportunity to work with applicants to achieve a number of significant benefits for the community.

lot size

While historic plats have lots sizes often above the required minimums, recent standard plats are developing lots of the minimum dimensions, and PRDs are creating lots below these parameters (densities for all remain within zoning limits).

street width

The recent use of PRDs has allowed neighborhoods to develop with reduced street widths.

The streets still meet the safety requirements for traffic and emergency services and have a number of benefits: less environmental impact in terms of stormwater runoff; traffic calming; and improved visual character.

These streets typically have a reduced width of both driving lanes and parking lanes, and may also have a reduction in on-street parking.

trails and open space

While parks have developed throughout the city over time, the use of the PRD process requires open space within new plats.

The limitations to these is that they are not required to be connected to neighboring areas and typically take the form of loop trails and open space tucked in behind homes.

tree retention

Previously, trees were retained on private property and in small stands or as solitary specimens.

Now retained trees are located in commonly owned tracts, with the preference being for groups or larger stands of trees.

street trees

Street trees are now being included in plats to meet Code requirements for: PRD landscape design; SEPA mitigation; and tree retention.

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities

This second part of the presentation will highlight strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.

Overall, many excellent solutions have been implemented to support a walkable, healthy, and environmentally sound community; however, many of these are not part of our regulations.

By adapting our Code we should be able to correct this.

Staff will be looking to the Planning Commission for insights and direction on potential revisions.


These images illustrate design solutions for the buffer streets previously shown.

The Code allows for different options based on quality of the existing vegetation.

Should the City have a standard design for these corridors?

This could: provide a more effective urban forest; improve aesthetics; and, may even allow for walking and bicycle trails separated from the street.

open space - access

The absolute number and acreage of trails and open space has increased due to the greater number of PRDs developed.

However it is important to note that these are privately owned trails, and do not connect to, or are part of a trail network.

Additionally, often these spaces are not centrally located, or are fragmented, limiting their potential as assets for the neighborhood.

open space - central

Sites that have significant numbers of trees, and are of greater size have allowed opportunities for plans that combine the required 10% open space area, as cohesive “parks” for the subdivision.

These types of design allow greater access; improve aesthetics; and afford better tree retention.

Staff suggest developing standards for open space configuration, so that these successes can be repeated.

ends - connectivity

Street patterns that limit connectivity, as illustrated in the delayering exercise earlier, affect movement throughout the city.

The routes shown here clearly impeded by the breaks, or ends, in the street network.

Staff would like to develop code requirements that would 1) provide clearer direction for creating street connectivity, and 2) ensure that non-vehicular connections are required through all street ends.

The following images illustrate how this has been achieved on occasion.

ends - parks

This type of design has a street ended at a public facility – in this case a park.

ends - through & park

This design provides access to the park with a non-street connection from the cul-de-sac. The park also has street frontage on the other side.

Such connections provide options and greater efficiency for people on bike and foot; which in turn makes non-vehicle transportation choices more viable.

If desired by the Commission, design standards for both parks and street ends could be developed to promote this kind of beneficial design.

ends - through

Here a through connection is provided to support residents not traveling by car.

Would the Commission like to see these kinds of transportation options included in the design regulations for plats?


Staff have been able to require applicants to incorporate transit stops along major streets.

SEPA and traffic reports have been used to require these.

Improved Code could increase connectivity between these facilities and walkways, and improve their effectiveness, especially for those most dependant upon these transportation options, youth and seniors.

connections - grid

By using the 10% open space requirement of the PRD process staff were able to encourage an applicant to use this area to provide a cross block connection where there is no street connection.

Unfortunately this type of solution is again, project specific.

The Planning Commission may wish to have staff develop Code language that promotes more systemic use of these kinds of design solutions.

connections - short cut

The same is true for this example where a “short cut” is provided where people would otherwise have to travel a much greater distance, along a route more appropriate for vehicles.

access design

This photo show a pedestrian access design that takes into account a number of important aspects that make it function well: sight lines and visual access to the path; landscape improvements; overall width, and location.

access design

Narrower pedestrian connections do not achieve the same level of design by limiting visual access and creating a confined feeling.
Attention to this kind of detail is outside of the current Code.
Staff would like to explore developing standards for these and other pedestrian connections and trails.

street width

The width of streets can have some of the greatest impacts on subdivisions, influencing: the sense of place and aesthetic quality of neighborhoods; traffic speed and in turn pedestrian safety; stormwater runoff and pollution; and, maintenance and repair costs. These are all proportionately affected by the larger amounts of pavement needed for wider streets.

The images above illustrate the difference in proportion of street cross sections between newer and older plats.

The Planning Commission may wish to have street section options for subdivisions to maximize their benefits, and reduce the impacts excessive street sections can have.


Alleys have been “reintroduced” as an alternative by applicants, to: 1) improve the visual character of streets (with garages in the rear of homes) and, 2) improve walkability.

This is an option available to all subdivisions, but has been used very sparingly by applicants.


Stormwater management tracts are a necessary infrastructure improvement within almost every subdivision.

Through the use of SEPA, staff were able to address the landscape design around this one; creating an aesthetic benefit to the community as it matures.

These landscape improvements are required of other types of developments within the City.

Staff suggest the Commission consider similar regulations for plats.

trees - urban forest

The tree species, small size and edge conditions of retained areas, and the neighboring uses make tree retention difficult to achieve; generally resulting in less than desirable outcomes.

Staff have been able to work with applicants with sites that have significant numbers of trees, and/or are of large size, to include street trees within their projects.

Adapting these regulations to be more focused on creating an appropriate “urban forest”, such as through street trees, may be a more appropriate measure for the long term.

If the Planning Commission would like to review such code language, staff would be happy to bring that forward.


Short plats (those subdivisions with nine or less lots) can assist with infill development to meet the requirements of the GMA for example in terms of density; reduced sprawl; and housing options.

short plat issues

The existing requirements of the Oak Harbor Municipal Code make achieving this kind of infill develop difficult, specifically: required street frontage; lot configuration; utility easements; and, emergency services access/turnaround requirements.

In some cases, adopting more flexible or less restrictive standards can allow infill development to go forward, where existing regulations discourage this.

current condition

An existing large lot may have sufficient area to mathematically create more than one lot.


Requirements for new r-o-w width and the potential need for a turn around at the end may make the proposed lots unfeasible.

Also, “standard” requirements may add additional hurtles relating to utility easements, stormwater management, and lot shape.