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Steer Your Driveway through Local Bureaucracy

Your crumbling, old driveway needs to be replaced, so why not add a bigger entrance with some shrubs while you're at it? Or really get creative and make a curved approach to the street? STOP! You're not going anywhere without visiting your local permit office. Driveway design can be tricky because it involves following local rules in addition to aesthetics and common sense, says Joel M. Lerner in The Washington Post.

The first thing to remember is, you don't own your driveway exclusively, not all of it, anyway. Your city or county owns the right-of-way, or setback. This is the apron, the part of your driveway that enters the street. Your local officials have very definite rules about what you can and cannot do on the right-of-way. For example, your driveway apron might be limited to a certain maximum width, or you might be prohibited from planting trees or shrubs in that area. Check with your permit office before you start breaking ground. Show them your design and find out what kind of permit is required. If you don't, you might be forced to tear it all up and replace it again.

You have a variety of materials to choose from, including gravel, asphalt, interlocking block, concrete, brick and stone. You'll need to consider durability in addition to appearance, especially if your driveway has to endure big temperature swings and freezing moisture. Just make sure your contractor is licensed, and experienced in installing driveways with your material of choice. Getting your design blessed by the local jurisdiction shouldn't hinder your creativity. Try to incorporate the driveway into your landscape design. Make it less obtrusive by screening it with a raised bed of plants or shrubs, or install it below ground level, suggests Lerner. Remember to allow for drainage.

Additional design considerations relate to safety and common sense:

The view in both directions should be unobstructed for 300 feet so you can safely enter traffic.

The angle needs to be straight and perpendicular where it enters the street. That's the safest approach to traffic. You should be able to enter front first, too.

The maximum safe slope is 12 percent but try to get closer to zero percent--level is better, especially for traction in wet and icy conditions. You don't want to watch helplessly from the window as your car slides into the street. The parking area needs to be level or a 2 percent grade maximum. It's safer for loading and unloading passengers.

Length and Width.
If you're cramped for space, you can probably get by with an eight by sixteen-foot driveway. But you're better off allowing at least 10 feet in width to keep from trampling your lawn and plants beds during loading and unloading. You'll need at least 12 feet in width to safely steer around curved sections.