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Fire threat ignites new subdivision's exit concerns

Auburn planning panel recommends approval of 65 new homes
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Gus Thomson/Auburn Journal

Development representative John Franklin tells the Auburn Planning Commission on Tuesday that an emergency access road in and out of a planned 65-home development on Collins Drive is possible as the proposal moves forward.

An Auburn Planning Commission recommendation to the City Council to approve a rezoning allowing a 65-home development to proceed  will move ahead with a proviso on fire safety.

Commissioners at a hearing Tuesday agreed that while the Bayside Holdings LLC project on Collins Drive should go forward with the panel’s OK, a secondary road to allow smoother evacuations during emergencies should be considered.

The spectre of the Camp Fire that overran Paradise in November colored discussions about a development that was presented with one road in and out.

Planning Commissioner Steve Galyardt said that Paradise residents couldn’t get out of their neighborhoods during the catastrophic fire.

“We’re looking at 65 homes,” Galyardt said. “That’s a lot of cars getting out of one access.”

Fire Chief Dave Spencer said that he sympathized with Planning Commission concerns.

But the state fire code didn’t require a secondary access road on the Collins Drive proposal because sprinklers are to be installed in the homes.

“I’m handicapped by the code but I’d be in support of a temporary emergency access road,” he said.

A temporary access road would be opened during evacuations or during emergency situations and closed to normal through-traffic.

Spencer said the fire that ripped through Paradise was a “perfect storm” of adverse conditions and that he wouldn’t compare Paradise to Auburn. He added, however, that he “didn’t want to minimize the state we are in.”

Bayside Holdings representative John Franklin said a 10-to-15-foot Collins Drive opening on the south side of the property could possibly work as a second access for both emergency vehicles and emergency evacuations.

“It may be an opportunity,” Franklin said. “We could look at that with our engineer.”

Commissioner Alice Dowdin Calvillo initially broached the idea of a second road.

“Right now, fire is on everybody’s minds,” Dowdin Calvillo said. “I would love to see a secondary access for everyday use but also willing to settle for emergency access.”