City of Washington Sign

Washington city staff is recommending street grade codes be changed to accommodate new construction in elevated areas in the city.

City code calls for streets to have a grade of 10 percent or less. However, meeting that threshold could be a challenge as areas to the south with more hills are developed.

Sal Maniaci, community and economic development director, told the Washington Planning and Zoning Commission Monday there are two options to address new requests for steep streets.

He explained the city could maintain the current code and review variance requests on a case-by-case basis.

The city also could change the code to allow for the exception of streets that already exceed 12 percent to be reduced to a maximum grade of 12 percent. Under this option, streets with a grade between 10-12 percent must be reduced to 10 percent, Maniaci explained.

“If we are going to continue to grant these (variances) under certain conditions, why not amend the codes for those conditions?” Maniaci asked.

Maniaci said a code amendment will encourage developers to get a topographic survey of a future development.

“That sets the parameters to get what we want but isn’t too extreme,” added planning commission member John Borgmann.

Maniaci said formal code change will be brought again in front of the commission and a public hearing will be required, along with a vote by the city council.

A discussion to allow for higher street grades began in September when the planning and zoning commission first heard the request for a variance granting higher street grades for the Overlook at Weber Farms Subdivision. The city council approved the request Sept. 18.

Cameron Lueken, with Wunderlich Surveying & Engineering, requested the variance for three streets in the proposed subdivision. He was representing the developer Northern Star Loans owned by Vic Hoerstkamp.

During the discussions following the request, there were concerns that city equipment could not adequately treat streets over 10 percent grade. That includes trash trucks and snowplows. There also was some concern of the performance of emergency vehicles.

Ladder Trucks

During the September planning commission meeting, Borgmann, formerly a deputy chief with the Washington Fire Department, voted against the variance citing International Fire Code that calls for a 10 percent max grade.

City staff researched emergency equipment performance on street grades, and determined the greatest impact of higher grades are on ladder trucks based on the amount of weight a bucket could hold in inclement weather.

Maniaci noted under the “worst case scenario” of 20 mile per hour winds and one-quarter inch of ice, a ladder truck would be limited by 30 percent.

“It is still possible to utilize and make a rescue but it is not as successful with a ladder truck,” Maniaci said.

Borgmann said that the Washington Fire Department typically does not use a ladder truck on residential calls. He added there are some instances when a ladder truck is necessary, including chimney fires where crews need to attack the fire from a higher angle.

“I can’t remember the last time we had a one-quarter inch of ice and 20 mph winds,” he added.

Regional Topography

Maniaci said the change in code would help developers as the city expands. As more farmland is being developed grade variances will be more prevalent.

He added the code change would not benefit developers who are looking to save money by not reducing the street grade.

Other municipalities in the region with a similar topography allow for slightly higher maximum grades.

The Union city code sets a max grade of 10 percent, but the city engineer has the authority to grant up to 12 percent.

In September it was noted that about 50 streets in Washington already have grades higher than 10 percent.