Fire officials see blazing need for new 12th Ave.

POULSBO — For the second time in as many meetings, a decision on the hotly-debated Caldart Heights community has been tabled. And so far, neither side is budging.

POULSBO — For the second time in as many meetings, a decision on the hotly-debated Caldart Heights community has been tabled.

And so far, neither side is budging.

A public hearing on the Caldart Heights Planned Unit Development (PUD) Preliminary Plat was first heard by council May 5 and then again May 19. The proposal plans 102 units, 43 single family and 59 single-family attached, on a 17-acre parcel of land off Caldart Avenue between Forest Rock Hills and a similar parcel abutting Caldart.

The plan is being protested by residents of Forest Rock Hills who say that a 14-year-old council decision that requires the owner to connect 12th Avenue with Caldart will forever change the face of their neighborhood. For now, at least, those pleas have stayed a decision once again as council unanimously voted this week to table making a decision until its June 2 meeting.

Currently, 12th Avenue is a road running north to south in Forest Rock Hills that ends in a cul-de-sac and residents in the area claim that it should stay that way. But if Caldart Heights is approved as planned, 12th would connect through to Caldart.

“At the time the council was discussing the possibility of connecting 12th, the idea of use was for single-family homes, not high density multi-family housing,” commented neighbor Phil Havers Wednesday night. “If you drive along 12th, it was clearly built to end where it ends. The road was never meant to be a through street, the others show they were clearly not meant to have driveways on them.”

Poulsbo Planner Karla Boughton, Deputy Fire Marshall Jerry Cooper and Mark Coleman of Team 4 Engineering, representing the applicant, all testified Wednesday night that the 12th Avenue extension was something that was added to the Caldart Heights requirements when talks started about two years ago.

“This is not something new, this is not something personal — this is something that needs to be done,” Cooper commented.

“I understand it can be hard for members of the public to know about these things … but it has been a requirement from the beginning,” Coleman added.

Cooper was on hand this week because the Poulsbo Fire Department is one of the entities requiring the 12th Avenue addition. Cooper explained that International Fire Code requires two ingress and egress points in all developments to provide for emergency personnel. He said when the department responds to a fire, there will be six vehicles and the hoses and equipment used will often block an entire path of travel.

“So you need that other way to get in and out,” Cooper explained.

A handful of Forest Rock Hills residents had suggested that instead of punching 12th through, that Poulsbo consider either having a break-away gate between the two neighborhoods or leaving a curb between them that the fire trucks could clear.

Cooper responded that he will not allow Caldart Heights to go forward as planned without the full 12th Avenue connection. In particular, he said he called other local fire departments and found out that none of them allow gates. There is one gate on Bainbridge Island, but it is being taken down after a recent emergency situation where crews responded to the wrong side of the gate.

“We can’t go below the fire code,” Cooper said. “We can go above it, but we can’t go below it, that’s a matter of law and it’s not discretionary. People have to realize these are life-and-death situations we’re talking about. We have minutes to respond to save a life.”

Councilwoman Kathryn Quade, who lives on the northern half of 10th Avenue, said she’s had crews not be able to find her house twice. Luckily, she added, both visits were for charity events rather than emergencies.

“I see the point of connectivity for emergency responders,” she commented.

But Forest Rock Hills resident Robert Kellogg didn’t see it quite the same way. He questioned why a gate would be such a hard thing to overcome when there are so many gated communities across the nation.

“Once we make 12th Avenue connect, it becomes the bypass for Caldart,” Kellogg said. “I’d hate to think that as we connect it for emergency access that we’re increasing the chances one of our children will be in an accident. There is an irony in that.”

Besides safety, Boughton said the 12th Avenue extension would serve Poulsbo’s policy of neighborhood connectivity. This means that the road is meant for the traveling convenience of Forest Rock Hills residents and future Caldart Heights neighbors.

“Certainly, this connection is not meant to be a new way to get around town, it’s supposed to be for the use of the people who will be living there,” she explained.

Coleman commented that he worked on a similarly-protested connection between the Austurbruin and Deer Run neighborhoods in recent years. Though the Austurbruin neighbors were concerned about increased traffic and the safety of walkers, Coleman said Poulsbo has not received a single complaint since the road was connected.

“Past experience has shown that once the connection is provided and the neighbors have a chance to get used to it, there’s no problem,” Coleman said.

Despite assurances, Forest Rock Hills residents still claim that the real people who will see the new 12th Avenue as a convenience will be teenagers speeding through to grab lunch at Central Market and commuters looking to cut some time between on State Route 305 between Lincoln Avenue and Forest Rock Hills Lane.

“It’s a neighborhood street, it’s a city street, it’s a place of dwellings and that’s what we want it to stay,” commented 12th Avenue neighbor Megan Visk, her voice breaking with emotion. “I don’t want to see increased risk to kids, to my family, even to the pets that get out of people’s yards. Even if we’re allowing the emergency vehicles to get through faster, it’s not going to make a difference if a child gets hit by a car there.”

The next Poulsbo City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. June 2 in council chambers on Jensen Way. The public hearing on the Caldart Heights proposal has been closed, so no members of the public will be invited to speak.