County changes rules on shared housing

EVERETT – Snohomish County firefighters now will have enough room for their engines to maneuver through a type of housing that’s become fashionable with developers.

The County Council on Monday adopted rules setting fire lane widths inside the developments, which are hybrids between single-family neighborhoods and condominium complexes.

Because they share a common property, these developments had bypassed existing county rules requiring specific dimensions for fire lanes. Other changes approved Monday include requirements for parking, open space and trees.

“My hope is we get a product we’re all proud of,” County Councilman John Koster said.

The council didn’t make the rules effective immediately because it takes six weeks for builders to get an appointment with permit reviewers. The new rules go into effect June 4.

The rules in part were a compromise forged by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties and many of the chiefs of the county’s local fire districts.

Under existing rules, there were no roads in the neighborhoods, only narrow driveways that serve as fire lanes.

Fire officials criticized the projects because residents park illegally on the side of the driveways – which look like narrow roads.

The parked cars blocked the way for fire trucks and aid cars.

Under the new rules, the driveways must be 20 feet wide and sturdy enough to support the weight of fire trucks. If parking is allowed on the driveways, they must be 24 or 32 feet wide.

Requiring developers to plan for more guest parking stalls is an additional improvement, Lake Stevens Fire Chief Gary Faucett said.

“We’ve got access for our fire vehicles because there is more parking provided,” he said. “Overall, it’s a great ordinance.”

The way the developments work, homeowners’ associations own all the common areas.

For that reason, county planning officials plan to work with fire chiefs and building advocates to draft a batch of parking rules that future homeowners’ associations must obey.

The developments also worried city officials from throughout the county. That’s because the areas are likely to be annexed into adjacent cities in the future.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.

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