Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors' neatly plowed street.

At least, not if your street is private and your neighbors' is public.

Huh? Aren't all streets public?

Actually, no. And some suburbs have been quietly putting up signs to point that out.

"It's to help people understand," said Russ Matthys, public works director in Eagan, where green street signs are giving way to brown signs to mark the private avenues. "If you live on that street, it's not a street on which the city is going to be providing services, such as snowplowing or street sweeping."

Most of the private streets are in commercial, townhouse or apartment complexes, but some also run through subdivisions of single-family homes.

In Eagan, they were approved on a case-by-case basis when pitched by developers to accommodate certain layouts of buildings. There are about 23 miles of private streets in Eagan, compared with 238 miles of city streets.

A development with private streets leaves more room for construction because there is no requirement of city right of way along the streets. As a result, houses can be constructed closer to the curb.

In the long run, maintenance of those streets, including signage, setting speed limits and filling potholes, falls to the property owner or in many residential cases a homeowners' association.

And sometimes the price of repairs comes as a shock.

"We'd have a neighborhood association come to the city and ask to take the street back," Steve Albrecht, now Burnsville's public works director, said of his past work in Prior Lake.

For the most part, Burnsville labels its private streets with brown or blue signs.

Cities are hesitant to assume ownership of the private streets, in part because they lack that right of way required on other streets.

Matthys, who has worked for Eagan for 25 years, couldn't recall a private street the city has ever taken over.

But they try to help people figure out who will fix that pothole or move the snow.

The new brown street signs will be put up as the old green signs wear out or are scheduled for replacement in conjunction with city projects.

"It does kind of draw the line: 'OK, we're stopping here,'" Matthys said.

Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286