Fire escape routes and pedestrian safety were the main concerns of Jefferson County commissioners as they deliberated Nov. 1, on whether to give approval to Gordon Shown's Bitterbrush Ridge North subdivision.
Shown, a former Jefferson County commissioner, who now lives in Terrebonne, started working to develop the four-phase subdivision in the early 1980s. However, in 1984, a portion of the subdivision was rezoned from rural residential to farm ground.
This July, under Measure 37, Shown was granted a waiver to allow him to divide 68 acres into 31 lots of 2 acres or more.
Concerns were expressed at an Oct. 11, public hearing about the subdivision's main access road being Hilltop Lane, which already has a lot of traffic and pedestrian use. With Bitterbrush's cul de sacs, there was also concern about lack of a secondary exit in case of a fire or other emergency.
At the Nov. 1, hearing, commissioners discussed Shown's suggested fix to the fire exit problem. Shown agreed to extend Grimm Drive as a gravel road to Cherry Lane to provide an exit.
The road would be gated and the fire department would have a key to let residents out in case of emergency. Bellamy suggested there also be an unlocked walk-through gate so pedestrians could get out.
In discussing the plan, it was mentioned that Grimm Drive only has a 20-foot-wide right of way, while a 30-foot-wide right of way would be needed to meet fire codes for emergency vehicle access.
County Administrator Matthew Birnie noted, "Grimm does have 30 feet of space, but it's not in the public right of way."
Another option Shown had mentioned was installing sprinkler systems in the subdivision houses, an idea which Commissioner Mary Zemke liked.
"I'm not comfortable with staying with Grimm Road (as it is)," Commissioner Bill Bellamy said, adding, "We have the ability to acquire the rest (for a 30-foot-wide road)."
Birnie said costs of improvements to the road would be the developer's responsibility, and the county could also require the developer to acquire the right of way.
"Most of those houses are on 2-acre lots. Its not like having a fire in the middle of a city," Zemke said, agreeing to the Grimm Road option.
Bellamy said he would also like the public works director to look at developing a walking path on one side of Hilltop Lane. "I have a real concern for that neighborhood because people are using the roadway because there is no other place to walk," he said.
Birnie said the subdivision's system development fees wouldn't be enough to construct a walking path, but there were other funds that could be drawn upon for such a project.
Bellamy also suggested that if the subdivision's roads were built to public standards, the county should agree to take over maintenance of them. Zemke, however, said she would rather discuss the county's entire policy on road maintenance of new roads at another time.
A motion was made by Commissioner Zemke to approve the subdivision application with the recommendations that Grimm Road be improved to be the emergency access road, a pedestrian access gate be installed on the emergency road, and land be acquired to meet the proper road width on Grimm Road. If that is not possible, then sprinkler systems would be required in the homes.
As the motion passed unanimously, Commissioner Bellamy stated, "There has been trepidation about us wanting these things to come straight to the commission. But this is a classic example that, if this would have gone through the planning process, it would have taken a lot longer and would not have changed the outcome."
As Shown was being congratulated following the decision, he commented, "I'm very pleased. I've owned the property for 43 years and since 1984 have been trying to develop it, and have run into one road block after another. This sure makes my day."