“Rough roads and looky-loos” might sound like a sad country-western song, but up in the Homer hills, that’s the tune neighbors on Dorothy Drive have been singing — including a genuine music star himself, Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band.
In response to increased traffic at the end of the road and what they claim are safety concerns caused by curious fans, earlier this month, the Gruening Vista West Home Owners Association filed a petition with the Kenai Peninsula Borough to vacate the last 2,000 feet of Dorothy Drive and turn the area into a gated community. The association includes Brown.
This week, the borough Planning Department issued a notice of public hearing on the petition to be held 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13 for a meeting of the Borough Planning Commission at the Navarre Administration Building in Soldotna.
The end of Dorothy Drive proposed to be privatized provides access to four homes, including Brown’s large log house now under construction. It’s unknown if Brown intends to make this his permanent family home. Brown did not respond to an emailed request for comment through his publicity agency, Joneworks.
If the commission approves and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly does not veto the decision, the narrow, gravel road will have a locked gate and be privately maintained by the association, with costs paid by Spotty Merle LLC, Brown’s company. A pedestrian gate with coded access would be provided for local residents. Fire trucks and ambulances from Kachemak Emergency Services could get through the gate by using a Knox Box, a security system that allows rapid access. Spotty Merle would provide firefighters with access to a 7,500 gallon water tank.
The neighbors also recently built a turn around at the start of the proposed private road, with a sign that says “road closed for local traffic.”
Peter Zuyus, president of the Gruening Vista West Home Owners Association and one of the residents, said the area gets about 10 to 20 vehicles a day coming through in addition to the traffic created by construction on Brown’s house. Some fans just want to snap a selfie, but others go up the driveway, despite “no trespassing” signs. Zuyus said he saw a group of people get dropped off who acted like they were hiking and then walked into the house. Area residents also walk by, he said, but they’re not the problem.
“We’re not objecting to the neighborhood,” he said. “We’re objecting to the traffic that comes in that may have bad intentions. We don’t know who they are.”
The new “road closed” sign hasn’t slowed down traffic, Zuyus said.
“Not yet,” he said. “People are like everyone else. They just ignore them. It’s not physically closed.”
In a July 5 memorandum from Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce to Scott Griebel, acting Road Service Area Director, Pierce wrote, “Because continued public use of this road is creating an ongoing threat to public safety, I direct that you close this road until the condition causing the threat to public safety has been alleviated.” Pierce cited KPB code 14.40.155, “Road Closure,” which says the director “may close a road with a physical barricade and signage where damage to the right-of-way or a threat to public safety is presented by continued use of the road.”
However, in response to a question from the Homer News about the legal status of closing the road, in a July 16 email Borough Attorney Colette Thompson wrote “to date Dorothy Drive has not been closed pursuant to KPB 14.40.155.”
Thompson said Pierce’s memo wasn’t being used to authorize a closure because “a road construction project is underway which is restricting access. The safety concerns relating to Dorothy Drive are being addressed through compliance with the permit requirements.”
In essence, the memo is currently moot since construction is blocking the road.
Closure of a road also requires being reported to the Road Service Area Board at a subsequent meeting, Thompson wrote.
In a cover letter with the home owners association’s petition, Zuyus wrote that they applied to vacate the end of the road “in order to enhance the safety and security of area residents that is currently being threatened by unwanted intervention of unknown persons on a dead-end road.”
The petition cites safety concerns for Brown and his family.
“Due to his celebrity status, people are inundating this dead-end street with curiosity seekers, autograph hounds and some with criminal intent,” the petition reads. “Many are being sent here by instigators from outside the area.”
To his knowledge, Alaska State Troopers have not received any complaints from people at the end of Dorothy Drive, Sgt. Daniel Cox wrote in an email. He’s head of the troopers’ Anchor Point Post within the E Detachment, which covers the Kenai Peninsula.
The petition addresses the lack of complaints. Noting that troopers provide law enforcement in the area, it stated, “It would place an undue burden on law enforcement if we were to file a complaint each time a potential criminal or trespasser comes by.”
In an email to assembly member Willy Dunne, who represents the lower Kenai Peninsula with assembly member Kelly Cooper, Pierce said Dorothy Drive residents “provided my office with sensitive, confidential information related to potential safety concerns” in a request they sent him asking about how to vacate the road. Chief of Staff John Quick said he had no comment on that memo or the confidential information. Zuyus also declined to speak about the information.
Dunne raised concerns about the temporary road closure. Dunne represents District 9, the outlying area around Homer, while Cooper represents District 8, the area that includes Dorothy Drive and East Skyline Drive. Dunne said closing the road limits pedestrian access to a trail that goes along a section line near Brown’s property.
“It seems clear there’s pedestrian access on the plat,” Dunne said in a phone interview last week. “They’re trying to cork off people after the fact.”
Zuyus said the current road restriction doesn’t apply to hikers.
“I’m challenging the legality of it,” Dunne said. “It’s not closing the road for safety reasons. It’s limiting access to the public.”
Dunne also questioned creating what he said would, in effect, be a gated community as a response to a celebrity trying to keep fans away.
“It seems like an interesting situation where a celebrity comes in and buys land and wants to keep people out,” he said.
Referring to the Kilcher family and their fame with the “Alaska: The Last Frontier” reality TV show, Dunne added, “… And what’s to stop the Kilchers from saying, ‘We want to block Kilcher Road for keeping fans out?’ I’d like my road blocked off, too.”