Sequim sets policy for private street ownership transfer

‘Road islands’ among community concerns

SEQUIM — Homeowners asking the City of Sequim to convert their private street to become publicly owned must follow new policy guidelines approved by the city council before their proposals can be considered.

City staff report that three neighborhoods and/or homeowner associations have inquired about the city assuming road maintenance and repair in recent years, with council members directing them to draft a new chapter of the Sequim Municipal Code (12.11 — Conversion of Private Streets to Public Streets).

The new chapter includes language that requires a written petition from nearby landowners, that the street must add value to the city grid system and meet city street right-of-way standards, and meet certain minimum standards of pavement condition.

Council members approved an ordinance for the new chapter on June 26 in a 6-1 vote with council member Kathy Downer opposed; she said she felt one requirement was too restrictive for homeowners.

The chapter states that landowners can petition the city council to accept rights-of-way and transfer legal and financial duties to the city and convert a street’s status from private to public.

Nicholas Dostie, Sequim’s deputy Public Works director, said June 26 that establishes a process with no guarantee it will be used.

Policy requirements

According to the city’s Municipal Code, requirements for a neighborhood/HOA’s request to be considered, include:

• A written petition signed by 100 percent of the abutting landowners, including all persons with partial ownership interest.

• The private street must add value to the city grid system and help achieve the city’s comprehensive plan policies and goals for transportation.

• The entire proposed street must have a minimum Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of 70 or 100 percent of the average PCI for Sequim streets, whichever is higher.

• The width of the proposed right-of-way must be consistent with city street standards at the time of proposal and be adequate for anticipated buildout purposes.

Council may also impose conditions on a case-by-base basis, such as requiring a utility service study, and the formation of a Local Improvement District (LID) to install city standard street improvements, such as sidewalks, landscaping and street lights.

If conditions are met, council will direct staff to conduct further review and schedule a public hearing.

However, the city council holds the right to not accept the proposal even if it meets the criteria, according to the new code.

There’s also no timeline in which staff or council must act on a proposal.

The city also will require easements if a changeover is to move forward, and stormwater drainage systems must be confirmed as adequate and in compliance with state and federal law.

Costs, concerns

Current city code requires all new streets to be public and staff said they’ll review this requirement as part of the 2025 Comprehensive Plan review.

At the May 8 council meeting, staff said the cost to repair and/or build streets has gone up significantly in recent years, too, with Dostie saying it’s upwards of 10 times, depending on the project compared to projects in 2019-2020.

For roads with a 70 PCI or better with minimal potholes and other issues, he said the PCI can be improved easier versus a lower rating requiring significant costs.

City Attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross said any time a local jurisdiction like the city does a project, it must pay prevailing wages, so if a neighborhood or HOA were to do it, the cost could be about one-third less than what it would cost the city.

A concern for some residents has been what’s been coined “road islands,” a public street disconnected from another public street with access only through a private street.

Public Works Director Sarah VanAusdle said via email that there are between two and seven potential road islands that exist or could exist from possible development.

City resident Steve Graham said June 26 that a second phase in his neighborhood’s development will create a public road island, and he found the new code guidelines “pretty restrictive” for homeowners seeking the city to assume ownership of their private roads to access the public road.

“There are a huge number of hurdles here,” Graham said. “A road island is not something you really want. You want continuous maintenance.”

He encouraged the council to be more flexible to get rid of road islands, and revise the city code to include a negotiation process as it “has a lot of potential to go sideways.”

Dostie said staff have been wrestling with the road island concept and that there’s no easy way to address them.

Deputy City Manager Charisse Deschenes said there are a lot of subdivisions and vacant land throughout the city where it could become more difficult for people to access property, and some development proposals have stopped because of this.

For more about the city’s code, visit sequimwa.gov.

________

Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

Editor’s Note: Nash lives by a proposed project mentioned in this story.

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