From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 22 - August 23, 2007
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P&Z Questioned About Subdivision Roads
Do developers cut corners or are standards being met?
by Joy Ufford

One local contractor spoke up saying hebelieves some newer subdivision roads fall well below the required county standards. Contractor Mark Noble discussed his concerns with the Sublette County Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission and staff at last Thursday’s meeting.

Noble told the board that he travels around the county and sees shortcomings “where you required drawings.”

“But 90 percent of those subdivisions are not built to those standards ... that you guys are requiring plans for,” he said.

“I don’t want to be a tattletale,” Nobel said. “There’s got to be some certain standards. I’ve seen things I didn’t think people got away with anymore.”

At one time, Noble added, the county had an engineer come in and check that subdivisions’ roads were being “built to spec.” “We still do,” replied Planning Director BartMyers. “Whoever’s inspecting them isn’t doing it,” Noble said.

Myers said Tuesday that the county calls on engineer Brian Gray to perform reviews except for developments where Gray’s firm is project engineer.

“He does a very thorough review.” Developers must submit road design and construction drawings before a final plat is approved, Myers explained. An independent review of the plans determines if they are up to county standards; the developer provides an estimate and posts a financial surety – a bond or letter of credit – which isn’t released until the developer calls P&Z and says he or she wants the money back.

The roads must be completed within one year of final plat approval and a six-month extension is available, he explained. The same engineer who reviewed the plans would then go out and certify whether or not the road is built as it should be. If it is, the bond or letter of credit is released back to the developer.

“My sense is it was a pretty good system as long as bonds weren’t getting released without a letter from the reviewing engineer,” Myers said. “I don’t think any have been done in the year I’ve been here,” he said. He said that he couldn’t speak for his predecssor’s actions.

P&Z members asked Noble for examples of what he considers substandard road construction. Noble cited Cobblestone, a subdivision by the airport, saying that “it didn’t come up to standards;” it is too steep and will probably have “drifts 12 feet deep” and gravel being plowed off into ditches. Myers said he did deny that developer’s request for bond release because the roads were not up to standard. The bond expired Aug. 1 but the developer is working with an engineer to make repairs and pass inspection.

Granite Peaks off Ehman Lane “has huge soil erosion problems” because of its steepness, Noble said. The developer has “stuffed strawbales” into the soil cracks to try and stem erosion, he added. A third, Split Diamond, gets “flash floods washing a huge amount of gravel off onto neighbors’ adjacent property,” he said. “I remember, these were some of your concerns,” he told the P&Z board and staff.

Noble recommended “tighter monitoring for things you can’t see” such as underground utility placement and subgrade compaction. For example, the county requires utilities to be buried five feet down in the barrow ditch, he said. “Some do it, some don’t,” Noble said. “It’s a huge tax burden to everybody if they (roads) fall apart in five years.” Myers said after having time to “step back a little” and reviewing the specifics of the examples Noble used, he said he thinks “the process works fine as it currently exists.”

Some subdivision roads that are not “up to par” might still be within the one year construction period and therefore, cannot be considered in violation of regulations, Myers explained.

“Roads still being built aren’t violating anything,” he said. “Maybe we’re trying to fix something that isn’t broken.” P&Z board member Dave Harper said that developers “cutting corners can outbid the ones who are not, and it drives the good out.”

“This Ehman Lane thing is bugging me,” said Chair Albert Sommers. Noble said that it is “unfair” to the developer trying to do right when the one “across the fence is not doing it right.” One more engineer could be used to monitor ongoing construction, he suggested. “Standards are fine as long as everybody sticks to them,” he added.

P&Z board member Tim Thompson asked Noble if there was one “eye catcher” he could point out. He named Granite Peaks’ erosion problems as his choice. “That’s a prime example of everything that went wrong, to me,” Noble said.

Myers pulled that file Tuesday and found a letter from Nelson Engineering dated July 6, 2005, stating that work was completed to standards and the bond would be released. The financial surety posted for that road, based on the developer’s estimate of its construction, was a letter of credit for $13,000. “That seems really, really low,” Myers said when asked about the amount the developer had posted. “I would question it now.”

There are possible reasons for the road’s deterioration that might be the responsibility of the homeowners’ association, he said.

“It met county standards for a subdivision road (in 2005), ”Myers said. “Does it still meet county standards? I don’t know that for certain.”

Myers said that the public-comment period at the end of P&Z’s meetings is designed to give people like Noble with concerns a place to air them. “Absolutely,” said Myers. “That’s the purpose ... I did a little bit of research Thursday night.”

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