From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 15 - April 10, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Hotel permit approved despite fire concerns

by Alecia Warren

After weighing what proved to be more of a moral question than simply a legal one, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved recommending a commercial building permit for a three-story Hampton Inn and Suites at Monday’s meeting, though the Pinedale Fire Department lacked a ladder truck that could reach the third story for rescue operations.

The Pinedale Mayor’s Office resolved the issue the next day with an announcement that the county had allocated funding to purchase the $1 million truck, yet Monday’s meeting still raised many questions. For instance, why the issue has not been resolved earlier, as the town has approved building multiple hotels in recent years that are higher than the fire department’s equipment can reach to pull people to safety.

“We kind of shrugged at it in the past,” said Commission Chairman Paul Rock at the meeting. “The Lodge at Pinedale’s elevator shaft was too high, and then Halliburton hotel (was too high)… We kind of let that slide.”

The buildings Rock mentioned, as well as the proposed Hampton Inn and Suites, all fall within the town’s guidelines for height restrictions, however, and commission members acknowledged there was no legal reason to stop the permit request from moving to the Town Council for approval.

Rock recalled that the fire truck concerns had also surfaced about two years ago when High Country Suites, or the “Halliburton hotel” was proposed.

The town had then approached industry operators about funding the truck purchase, but the effort had “stalled” at some point, said Town Council member and EnCana employee Chris House.

Commission member John Fogerty wondered if the town could ethically continue approving buildings that were clearly out of firefighters’ reach.

“There is the question of knowingly putting people in harm’s way,” Fogerty said, adding that he didn’t know if the town could be liable if someone were injured or killed due to the lack of necessary equipment.

Even the firefighters themselves can land in a dangerous position, pointed out Pinedale Online! owner Dawn Ballou, because they must actually enter a building to rescue a person at a third story level, instead of simply climbing a ladder to haul victims from a window.

But the town wouldn’t be subject to a lawsuit if a firefighter or victim were injured, said Town Attorney Ed Wood in a phone conversation on Tuesday. Nor does the town have any responsibility to ever provide proper equipment.

“The real question is why would there be a liability? To define liability, there has to be a duty that someone doesn’t perform,” Wood said.

The Town of Pinedale has always voluntarily provided operational costs for the Pinedale Fire Department, as the county has chosen to fund equipment, he said. But no statute currently requires either entity to provide ladder trucks that reach all buildings.

In fact, the general enabling statute for towns states that the town isn’t required to create and support a fire department at all. “I don’t see a situation where just the fact that we have three-story buildings and we don’t have a ladder truck could lead to a lawsuit,” Wood concluded. “We could’ve easily just not had a fire department altogether.” But the town holds an obligation to protect its residents and visitors, Pinedale resident Talli Manning said at the meeting.

“Whether you get sued or not, people are in danger,” she said.

The commission agreed.

Observing that the Hampton Inn application complied with town building ordinances, commission members voted to recommend the Town Council approve the permit, while simultaneously encouraging the County Commissioners to pursue purchasing a ladder truck.

“We’ve just been too complacent, that’s all,” Commission member Barbara Boyce said of not pushing harder for the truck in the past.

But apparently someone showed some initiative along the way, as Mayor’s Assistant Lauren McKeever reported on Tuesday that the county had agreed to allocate funding for the truck.

McKeever didn’t know the details of the agreement, and County Clerk Mary Lankford was unavailable to comment on when the decision was made, or when the Pinedale crew can expect its new equipment.

Some rumors have suggested that the current Pinedale Fire Department lacks the room to house the new truck, but McKeever said that Fire Chief Alvin Mitchell assured it will fit with a little rearranging.

Mayor Stephen Smith praised the development. “The Town of Pinedale has been actively seeking funding for the roughly $1 million ladder truck for over a year,” Smith wrote in an e-mail. “Plans are proceeding to acquire this important equipment.”

The Town Council will decide whether to approve the building permit for the Hampton Inn and Suites at its next meeting on Monday.

A building permit request for another three-story hotel had been on the Planning and Zoning agenda, but the commission tabled the request because the project’s spokespeople missed the meeting.

In other Planning and Zoning news:

— The commission approved a commercial building permit for WLC Engineering to renovate the upstairs of its office facility at 58 S. Tyler Avenue. WLC plans to remodel the interior with additional walls and windows, add an inside staircase and relocate the outside staircase to the back of the building. The project does not require approval from the Town Council because it costs less than $500,000.

— The commission recommended the Town Council approve a commercial building permit for Reed’s Construction Company to build a new batch plant with a 66-foot silo, with the recommendation that terms are agreed upon between Reed’s Construction Company and the Town of Pinedale regarding noise, dust and traffic.

— The commission approved a commercial building permit for the Mountain Man Museum to install an elevator in the back West corner of the facility. The elevator is intended to provide handicap accessibility to the basement. The permit doesn’t require approval from the Town Council because it costs less than $500,000.

—The commission recommended approval of the preliminary and final plats for the creation of Lot 7, C-1 zoning located southeast of the Lodge at Pinedale, contingent upon developers creating adequate parking. The commission also recommended approval for a building permit at the same location for a four-unit, one-bed modular apartment building, contingent upon the developers meeting all issues raised by the Planning and Zoning Administration and providing the necessary paperwork to Town Engineer Eugene Ninnie.

— The Planning and Zoning Commission held a workshop discussion with Ninnie and Mark Eatinger of Rio Verde Engineering about the Water Supply Master Plan that Rio Verde is developing for the Wyoming Water Development Commission.

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