The end of the road may finally be in sight, both figuratively and literally, for pedestrians and cyclists seeking a smooth path between the hilltop communities of Arch Beach Heights and Top of the World.
The City Council on Tuesday directed staff to explore a combination of two options to develop a path across a private easement and through city- and county-owned open space lands that would link Top of the World Drive to the well-traveled ridgeline fire road.
Barring complications, public works project director Wade Brown said it might be possible to finalize design review by next January, with construction completed by July 2015.
Protests over the lack of a path surfaced in 2010 when residents of Sommet du Monde, whose homes were built in the1990s, quashed a proposal to allow public use of their paved and gated roadway, which extends to the fire road. The City Council opted instead to explore an improved pathway that would skirt the hilltop enclave.
Extending a surprise olive branch, two Sommet du Monde property owners offered to help defray costs of the
preferred but priciest approach, since it provided them more privacy, City Manager John Pietig disclosed Tuesday. The owners came forward just the day before, he said.
Twenty-three residents weighed in on the issue, including children who gamely explained their heartfelt concerns.
Residents from both hilltop neighborhoods implored the Council to select a design and move ahead with the project, budgeted at $380,000. Currently, those on foot or a bike must leave the paved fire road to navigate an unimproved, steep and rocky footpath to skirt the Sommet du Monde compound and reach the roadway beyond.
The improvised route, tricky enough for sure-footed hikers, requires cyclists to dismount and walk their bikes, makes runners anxious and renders the final leg of the journey impassible for strollers, toddlers and the elderly and disabled. It’s a constant frustration to parents from Arch Beach Heights wishing to walk their school-aged children to Top of the World Elementary.
“One of my favorite ways to go to school is walking on the fire road with my friends,” said 8-year-old Mason Silva. “But I am scared I am going to fall and get hurt,” she added, voicing a concern shared by her peers.
“You have to get off your bike no matter what,” in order to traverse that stretch, said Steve Britt, mountain biker and parent.
Retired fire fighter Carl Klass brought up another big fear. “It’s a death trap,” he said, since the fire road is an exit in case of emergency. Though the private gates are supposed to be opened during emergencies, the electric gates stay shut when the power fails, he said.
Carolyn Smith admitted that her neighbor wielded a sledge-hammer to open the gate during the 1993 fire, when it failed to function.
The path would cross private land at 28901 Top of the World Dr., for which easement negotiations begun in 2012 are all but completed, said Brown. A topographic survey, preliminary design and environmental studies are done and the project is nearly ready for design review, he said.
On Tuesday, the Council was asked to determine which of three options to pursue for the trickiest terrain that connects to the fire road. The most scenic concept requires a bridge and involves jackhammering into the hillside bedrock, likely exceeding budgeted costs by $200,000. The second involves similar jackhammering, but no bridge, and exceeds the budget by $150,000. Neither is steeper than a 10 percent grade, but both have a long section only four-feet wide. The third, cheapest option, comes in close to budget and is eight-feet wide, but has the disadvantage of a steep, 20 percent grade and follows a route very close to the private property line of two homeowners.
Though staff initially recommended the third option, public opinion clearly leaned towards the most expensive option, offering a gentler grade for users and more privacy for nearby homeowners.
The two property owners closest to the path, would be willing to buy a small piece of land from the city for a price that could offset the excess costs of the first option, said local attorney Gene Gratz, representing one of the homeowners.
Jerry Sebag, the other property owner, said that “the trail we support should not be the least expensive, it should be the safest.” He said he had worked with the city to balance everyone’s needs and that the first option “will offer the best experience and will not infringe on the lives of the residents.”
Asked if he and his neighbors would truly be willing to take on the extra $200,000 cost, Sebag said it is “in the range of possibilities” though “there are many details that need to be worked out.”
Addressing concerns over bikes and toddlers sharing the narrower path, Pietig suggested pursuing the more expensive pathway for pedestrians and the third option for bikes, while also investigating the cost of widening the first. The Council unanimously agreed to that course of action, with Mayor Elizabeth Pearson absent.
Former Mayor Jane Egly, who pressed for the passageway in the first place, said she would support whatever turns out to be the safest route. “Do your best job, folks,” she urged, adding “I hope next year in July we can have the opening. I’ll buy the champagne.”