New mini-cul-de-sacs are a problem in Winchester,

New mini-cul-de-sacs are a problem in Winchester, Massachusetts, a town of 21,000 northwest of Boston. It’s become increasingly common for developers to demolish a house and replace it with a small cul-de-sac and three or four new houses. “There are a number of problems with this,” says Planning Board Chairman Maureen Meister. “First, the new cul-de-sac disrupts the rhythm of the streetscape. Second, the new houses on the cul-de-sac are usually out of scale with the houses in the neighborhood, so there’s the ‘mansionizing’ issue.”

“The cul-de-sac itself is generally unattractive” because of outdated rules, Meister adds. “About a year ago…we wanted to reduce the street width, tighten corners, and add a center planting, but the fire chief argued that this would reduce access for fire trucks. And the town has a lot of sewer lines that are old and need replacement, so when the new subdivision goes in, it adds load to the system.”

In theory, a town should be able to overcome all these problems; however, towns of Winchester’s size tend to have a very small engineering staff, not much capacity for supervision and enforcement, and few municipal planners.