Re: drivable emergency access. was RE: "Cohousing Overlay"asZoning Regulation
From: Wayne Tyson (
Date: Tue, 22 Mar 2011 17:02:54 -0700 (PDT)
In further response to Dowds:

While I believe that I addressed some of Dowds' points in my previous post, I probably should add that, while I do not wish to build a straw-man argument here, I would like to hear some clarification before falling into the trap of seeming hyper-critical or presumptuous concerning his intent. Therefore, I make no presumptions in that regard, nor are my comments in any way intended to imply such.

I spent many years participating in "negotiations" with developers and their engineers/architects/other professionals regarding various aspects of subdivision design, and would be the first to agree that perfection seldom happens. That is not my point; my point is that professionals and developers should be fully honest about what the relative risks of design alternatives actually are. If there is a compromise involved, it should be a part of the public record, not concealed from the public, and certainly not from the buyers, renters, or other occupants (e.g., if you're above the fifth floor, you will not be rescued by ladder, etc., you will have to get out on your own or run the risk that a firefighter will risk her/his life to get you out alive . . .). Then there will be less ambiguity, less wiggle-room for "compromising" professionals and their lawyers. Again, I do not question that "in the real world" this does not happen. What I do question is whether or not the best available alternative available with respect to the issue (fire or?) at hand. If an engineer or architect or other professional knowingly failed to insist upon the best available alternative, whose fault is it, the buyer's? The renter's? The guests?

It's not that high-rises haven't been built; it's whether or not professionals are fulfilling their responsibilities according to the best possible alternatives and placing their clients on notice with respect to the deficiencies. I suspect that there may be computer programs available these days that are capable of depicting worst-case scenarios. It would seem that they could also depict best-case scenarios and everything in between, illustrating the potential impacts of various alternatives.

Finally: Theoretically, it is government's responsibility to "ensure the public health and safety." In my experience, this is a cruel joke. I have seen all sorts of "negotiations" that resulted in developments that contain various hazards of which the occupants are blissfully unaware. Developers commonly "buy off" key public servants to save a few bucks in the hope that by the time the fire, flood, or other disaster hits, they will be long gone.

I do not lay all of the blame on bureaucrats and developers, but I do lay most of it on them. We the people should beware and be aware of this unfortunate phenomenon, and pick our professionals more carefully. And while we should not call an ambulance-chaser every time we trip on the stairs, neither should we let that unfortunate number of so-called "professionals" take our money and give us defective products either. I am sure that Mr. Dowds is not one of this group; in my experience the offenders would not contribute their time to assist consumers in solving difficult design problems and otherwise selflessly lending a hand to the cohousing movement.

I stand ready to be corrected and to offer any clarification and apologize for any confusion my attempts to comment usefully might have caused.


PS: I try to avoid high-rises; unfortunately, not everyone can.

----- Original Message ----- From: "R Philip Dowds" <rpdowds [at]>
To: "CoHoL" <Cohousing-L [at]>
Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2011 12:53 AM
Subject: Re: [C-L]_ drivable emergency access. was RE: "Cohousing Overlay"asZoning Regulation

Sounds imminently sensible:  Why should planners and designers make safety
compromises a burden for our noble firefighters?  But let¹s think:  What,
exactly, is the ³hook², and what does it mean to be ³on² or ³off² it?

I bargain with fire chiefs on almost every project I do.  For health care /
hospital work < which accommodates live-in patients often incapable of
self-preservation < the ideal standard is that a fire truck never backs up,
but always can complete a full loop circuit around a building, access every
building face, and then drive out forwards.  Fine by me.  But the truth is
that in many high density situations, and in pre-existing urban complexes
and lots, this ain¹t gonna happen.  So you work some sort of compromise.

For ³normal² residential occupancies of urban density < where the vast
majority of occupants can make their own escape if necessary < the full
circuit loop is not expected or requested.  The fire department generally
knows and accepts (a) its trucks can penetrate the property only so far; (b)
some parts of the property will have to be serviced by firefighters
hand-carrying ladders and hoses; and (c) at departure, the trucks will back
out as best they can.

You might be very disappointed if your cohousing community had been designed
to fully accommodate fire trucks and their 80-ft turning radii.  If you want
to make your community construction really, REALLY safe, you fit it with a
sprinkler system, which costs no more, and probably less, than a site plan
designed for big trucks.

One final point:  The World Trade Center catastrophe offered dramatic
illustration of the fact that above the sixth floor, fires in high-rise
construction are somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible to
fight.  As much as we all value foresight, safety, and professional
competence, I confess that I missed the meeting where we decided to build no
more high-rises in America.

Don¹t get me started on the American highway system.

Philip Dowds AIA
Cornerstone Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

PS:  I love Utah and have been there many times.  I maintain my SUWA

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