Guard Street resident finds his home is landlocked; town says driveway would be too hazardous
August 3, 2009 · Updated 7:21 PM
David Taylor is in a difficult fix.
He parks his car in front of his home at 520 Guard St., but traffic gets perilously close, making getting in and out of his vehicle a challenge. Once, he said, he was knocked down by a passing motorcycle.
Town street standards say Guard Street is a minor arterial and the minimum pavement width must be between 37 and 43 feet. But the street in front of his home is one foot narrower than the standard, a tape measurement by The Journal showed.
Because of the hazards of backing a vehicle onto Guard Street between Culver Avenue and Tucker Avenue — across the street from Friday Harbor High School and its parking lots — town law requires residents of that portion of Guard Street drive onto their properties via Jensen Alley. Mail is delivered to the homes via the alley as well.
Town law states, "Those properties abutting Guard Street between Culver Avenue and Tucker Avenue shall take their access from Jensen Alley."
But long before Taylor bought his property, his lot had been subdivided and a house built behind him, cutting him off from the alley. As a result, he has to park on the street and cannot get home mail delivery either.
Permit Coordinator Warren Jones, who has lived on San Juan Island since the 1940s and served on the Town Council from 1967-71, said the house behind Taylor's was built long before his time — and long before the town had adopted standards. The home's current owner said the home was built in 1930 and may have been a cottage for the 520 Guard St. home.
A neighbor on Guard Street has a driveway. Mike Bertrand, the town's land use administrator, said the driveway was built before town standards were written, so it is grandfathered in. Ditto for attorney Carla Higginson's parking lot at Guard Street and Blair Avenue, across the street from the high school's Hall Gym. Drivers consistently back their vehicles off the lot and onto Blair Avenue.
Taylor has enough room for a driveway; information from an engineer shows that Taylor has enough room to pull onto his property, do a three-point turn, and drive front first onto Guard Street.
"It appears that it could be done," said Bob Querry, a permit consultant who obtained the information for Taylor. "I haven't laid it out on the ground, but on paper it looks good."
But installing a driveway requires town approval. And town officials have turned Taylor down. He gets a second chance on Aug. 6.
Town officials say Taylor knew what he was getting into when he bought his home in March 2007. But Taylor said he didn't realize how narrow Guard Street was with traffic on it, and he applied for a driveway in April 2008. He was turned down Nov. 6.
Taylor's situation is atypical in other ways as well. He has a rare condition that causes tumors to form on his spine. His condition "leaves him susceptible to falls and lurching," Dr. Burk Gossom of San Juan Healthcare wrote to the Town Council last year. "This makes it especially dangerous for him getting into a car parked on the side of the street."
Gossom, an avid bicyclist, is an advocate of wider streets in Friday Harbor. He said he measured Guard Street from the middle of the road to the center of the curb — about 18 feet, or 36 feet total width. The town's minimum width for minor arterials, of which Guard Street is one, is 37 to 43 feet, according to the town's Minimum Street Design and Access Standards.
Taylor said his medical condition, while a factor, is not the main issue. He's concerned about the general public safety, as well as being able to access his property from the road.
"It doesn't matter if someone is disabled. Someone is going to get hit," he said.
Here are the hurdles he faces Aug. 6:
— A driveway on that section of Guard Street would require a change in the town code. Town officials fear a change in town code could attract more driveway requests on that section of Guard Street, although Taylor's nine neighbors have access from Jensen Alley.
"If we allow him to do it, others could ask for boundary line adjustments (for driveways)," said Councilwoman Carrie Lacher, who said she wants to avoid the risk of vehicles backing onto "one of the busiest arterials in town."
Querry doesn't believe there's a risk of other driveway requests. "There are no other lots like that," he said of Taylor's property. "It's a reasonable request based on the specifics of his lot. He has some special circumstances."
Lacher said Taylor could park on Culver Avenue next to the San Juan Community Theatre, or he could ask a neighbor for an easement; the properties on either side of him have commercial parking space.
"I would like to come up with a creative solution, but I don't think the onus is on the town," she said, adding, "It's too much of a safety issue."
— Town officials believe that if a driveway is installed, there's nothing to prevent Taylor or a future resident from backing onto Guard Street anyway. What if a future resident has a larger vehicle than Taylor's and can't do a three-point turn, Bertrand asked. And what will keep vehicles from using Taylor's driveway to make turns on Guard Street?
"It's not an appropriate place for a (driveway). The street is too busy to be backing out."