Objections stall hilltop connection

The City Council voted Tuesday to explore ways to connect Top of the World and Arch Beach Heights by a pathway — but it won't go through the gated community of Sommet du Monde.

A road in the gated community would have provided access from TOW to the fire road between the two hilltop neighborhoods for the use of bicyclists, hikers, moms with strollers and school children. However the proposal didn't sit well with six Sommet du Monde property owners, who made it clear that they would not open their private road to the public without a battle.

"There is no practical way to put access through Sommet du Monde after hearing the testimony," City Manager Ken Frank said.

Councilwoman Jane Egly had proposed sending Frank to gauge the willingness of the gated community residents to participate in providing public access to the fire road.

"Over the last few months, the Complete Streets Task Force has been working to encourage people to walk or bike," Egly said.

It's healthier for them and it reduces carbon emissions from vehicles that make trips down one hill and up the other and back again, she said.

Egly was praised for promoting the connector.

"Thank you, Jane, for bringing this forward as an agenda item and thank you, Complete Streets Task Force, and everyone here for coming to encourage Sommet du Monde homeowners to allow walkers and bicyclists to pass through their street," said Oak Street resident Charlotte Masarik, a leader of a hiking group.

"When we walk from Alta Laguna to Moulton Meadows, we scramble up and down the public access on the north side of Sommet du Monde — it's like an obstacle course," Masarik said. "Certainly we would like to walk through the private, paved road instead.

"We believe that Laguna is more than ever committed to public access into the open space and hope the city can come to an agreement with the property owners for us to walk through their road."

That hope was dashed Tuesday.

"I came from India, where property can be taken," Vijay Bhansali said. "In America, property can only be taken for a massive reason. I am hearing tonight taking property because it makes life easier."

Frank said the city could acquire the property through legal means, but at too high a cost — in time as well as money.

"You may not be assured of a legal win," said property attorney and Sommet du Monde resident Rebekah Bhansali. "The neighborhood has resources."

Scott Sebastian, a member of the city's Environmental Committee, said he was disappointed that people were talking about lawsuits.

"I wish people would back up and just talk and look at the possibilities," Sebastian said.

Councilman Kelly Boyd said he gulped when Frank brought up eminent domain.

"At $300,000 times six, I thought, 'Oh don't go there,'" Boyd said. "But I like giving the kids access and I say move forward."

Eric Tran, speaking on behalf of his parents, said the neighborhood was ill informed about possible use of the private road.

"This is private property and I am shocked that we weren't informed," Tran said.

Despite the setback, Egly convinced the council to approve a search for other options.

"The goal is great," Councilwoman Verna Rollinger said. "We should pursue all alternatives. I hope the [Sommet du Monde] neighbors will meet with us. We will have a better solution if we all work together."

Mayor Elizabeth Pearson did not participate in the hearing because she owns property that could be affected.

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