Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ketchum denies Knob Hill road

22-percent-grade drive proposed as access to 3 home sites

Express Staff Writer

City officials investigate the proposed building site last month. The proposed road would travel over the hill they are standing on. Photo by Rebecca Bundy

Three landowners argued before the Ketchum City Council on Monday that building a 22-percent-grade road 50 feet up Knob Hill to their properties should be allowed, even though it's triple the city's maximum grade.

"Steep does not equal dangerous," argued the landowners' attorney, Erin Clark, who mentioned San Francisco's steep streets. "We hope you listen with an open mind."

She said the snow/ice danger seen here would be alleviated by heating and covering the road, which would extend perpendicular from Walnut Avenue near Ninth Street.

However, City Council members weren't convinced. They heeded warnings from the city's planning staff, fire chief, city engineer and street superintendent, all of whom said it was still dangerous.

"The road that's designed is simply not safe," said the city's engineer, Dick Fosbury.

That was also the opinion of neighbors along Walnut Avenue who attended the meeting.

The road's 22 percent grade was just one of the waivers to city rules needed to build it. The council unanimously denied all street waivers requested by the landowners to build a road leading to their three proposed houses.

"Gentlemen, you're asking too much," said Councilman Curtis Kemp.

Ketchum Associate Planner Rebecca Bundy said the road is also 6 feet short of the required 26-foot width and isn't flat for long enough leading up to the intersection of Walnut Avenue, and cars should be visible 100 feet from the intersection. However, the covered road wouldn't be open like a covered bridge, but would have two cement walls running its entire length, like an aboveground tunnel, ending 20 feet from the Walnut Avenue intersection.

"This is waiver piled on waiver piled on waiver," said Jim Phillips, attorney for some of the neighbors.

Bundy said the town's steepest road is a short spurt of Fifth Street next to Formula Sports, at 15 percent grade, constructed before the 7 percent limit was in place.

Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said the proposed road is an "interesting concept" but far exceeds the steepest road he has ever allowed—10 percent grade. He said he won't ask his volunteer firefighters to stop a fire truck on a 22 percent grade, "ice or not," and doing so would be "opening a can of worms."

John Campbell, one of the landowners, replied by saying the fire trucks wouldn't have to go up the road to fight a fire. However, Elle said that under city fire code, the houses would be too far away to do that.

Clark asserted that the landowners have a right to build, and threatened that impeding their only option for access would end in "action" against the city.

City Attorney Stephanie Bonney told the council she doesn't think Clark would have a case.

Councilman Baird Gourlay said the landowners' right to build was trumped by the city's obligation for safety.

Trevon Milliard:

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