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Road's closed gate grates on residents.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

DUNES CITY - Greg Hicks and his business partners own Green Gate Road, which gives them every right to close it.

But the move isn't sitting so well with the dozen or more residents who'll be locked behind a gate that Hicks erected this week, granted a key only if they agree to sign a liability waiver.

Nor are local emergency officials too happy about the closure, which means that if they want to go put out a fire or restart someone's heart, they have to find a key and open the gate or snap through the chain with bolt cutters.

What everyone, including Hicks, agrees upon is this: the closing of the road is more about a feud with Dunes City than it is about anything else.

"It's ridiculous; it's so typical," said Mayor Eric Hauptman. "One lady has to go three days a week to dialysis; she has got to be able to get in and out of there. It's appalling, but it doesn't surprise me."

Hicks has been working for three years to gain approval for a 19-lot subdivision on Woahink Lake, with plenty of frustration to go around.

One of a half-dozen land use applications to land at City Hall the summer of 2005, the surge in building interest in a city with no tax base, no police department, no fire department and no sewer system prompted an outcry from residents worried about the impact of septic systems on water quality in the lake, from which most of the town draws its drinking water. The resulting controversy led to the ouster of Mayor Rob Ward and a big turnover on the City Council, where four candidates who ran on a "water quality" ticket convinced voters that it was time to take a tougher stance on developers in town.

Hicks' Woahink Ridge Estates got caught in the crossfire. After filing the initial application, the new council took over and quickly made it clear that "they didn't want any development in Dunes City, and that they were going to make it so expensive that nobody ever wanted to move out here," Hicks grumbled.

Though the city approved Hicks' subdivision application, a local resident appealed the decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals. The board sent the decision back to the city, which instead approved a planned unit development and tacked on 18 conditions of approval.

After following all those conditions and enduring weekly inspections of the project, Hicks and his partners say they spent close to $1 million for work on Woahink Ridge. By February, they were nearly finished, but rapidly approaching a deadline for submitting final plans for approval.

Hicks applied for an extension. The city denied it, because city attorneys said that's what the law required, Councilor Peter Howison said.

Hicks filed an appeal, which he said the city ignored. Now he has to refile the application and make sure it conforms with new ordinances, which will cost $500,000 or more, he said. Hicks filed a lawsuit; then he sued the city; then he put up a sign, warning residents a gate was coming; then he put up a gate.

"It's such a foolish thing," said Dennis Smith, one of the Green Gate residents. "To put us through the hassle of having to open a gate each time we go in and out of there; that gate is going to be open and shut 20 or 30 times a day."

Sure, there are other reasons to close the road: if someone gets hurt on it, the owners are liable, so Hicks wants users to sign a liability waiver before they can get a key. And there's been vandalism on the Woahink Ridge property, some of which he suspects is anti-development maliciousness - broken windows of an excavator and conduits stuffed with gravel. But if the city had granted an extension, Hicks is clear to point out, the road would be wide open.

"We spent a million dollars on that project and now we can't do anything with it? Yeah, we're upset," Hicks said. "And we're not going to let them get away with it. If Dunes City had recorded the subdivision, that'd be a public road."

Whether this particular version of hardball will prompt the city to budge remains to be seen. The residents who live on the other side of the gate have banded together and say they have no intention of asking for a key or signing a waiver, which they say has resulted in threats from Hicks to erect cameras and cut off access to anyone who leaves the gate open or cuts the lock.

"If they didn't want to hurt the residents in here, they could come and distribute to each one of us a key," said Lois Wilson, who lives down the road. "We're pretty disturbed about it. There could be a forest fire. This is a reckless decision."

The chief of Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue drafted a letter to Hicks this week notifying him that a lock with a key won't do, and that the fire district requires a gate with a code for emergency officials to punch in.

"I wish it would go away," sighed Chief John Buchanan. "Those 10 houses back there have to have protection."

Hicks, who said he used to drive a fire truck for the department, claims that emergency officials will have no trouble accessing the road.

"We'll give them a key, but they'll never use it," Hicks said. "It's just a chain. Each rig carries a bolt cutter; the guy in the right seat jumps out, pops the bolt and drives."

The city has researched the matter and found no recourse to stop Hicks from closing the road - yet.

"They're trying to leverage the city into giving them an extension," Hauptman said. "They're trying to put the squeeze on those folks so they'll go to the city. That isn't going to happen. I've talked to some of the people, and all it's done is anger them."
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Title Annotation:Community
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 15, 2008
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