Rules Needed For Gated Communities, County Says

SNOW HILL – A planned gated development of 15 homes has prompted the Worcester County Commissioners to call for regulations to govern gated access to local communities to ensure that emergency responders can open those gates.

“We need to have some rules,” County Commissioner Virgil Shockley said Tuesday during a brief discussion of the Aramis community planned on south St. Martin’s Neck Rd.

The county, Shockley said, needs rules for all gated communities.

Inquiries about gated communities have increased, said Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor.

“This is something we’re getting calls on pretty regularly now…it’s a really hot button issue right now,” said Tudor.

Shockley suggested that county attorney Sonny Bloxom draft recommendations for rules governing access gates.

Rules should have been in in place already Shockley said, with at least one local development, Riddle Farm, receiving permission to install a gate at the community entrance several years ago, although the gate was not installed until this year.

Concerns center around access to gated communities by emergency vehicles.

Some systems will open in response to an ambulance or police siren or to a tone sounded by an emergency vehicle. The gate code is also provided to emergency response agencies.

The county needs to insist on multiple layers of access, Bloxom said.

“With fire trucks going in there, we need to set rules and it needs to be county wide,” said Shockley.

Staff is already working on a set of standards, said Tudor, using established regulations from other jurisdictions.

“We’re not the first community to wrestle with this issue,” Bloxom said.

The draft rules can be ready for the Jan. 5 meeting, Tudor said.

“It’s something you’re going to see more of ‘til these things start breaking,” said Tudor. “It’s going to be pricey to maintain.”

Commissioner Linda Busick said issues have arisen in gated communities in the past.

“I live at River Run and we have these gates and there are problems,” said Busick.

David Fitzgerald of Worcester County Emergency Services outlined several concerns over community access gates in general in a late November memorandum.

Fitzgerald asked the county to require that a 24-hour contact number be posted at each gate, in case of malfunction or someone without the code needing access. If no contact number is posted, people tend to call 911, Fitzgerald wrote.

Fitzgerald also had concerns over maintaining a list of gate codes, writing that the 911 dispatch center would not take that on, since its job is to handle 911 calls. However, since many emergency responders are volunteers, and since they at times use their own vehicles to travel to a scene, a system giving access directly to emergency vehicles is not adequate. Multiple methods of access should be included, Fitzgerald felt, including perhaps an EZ-pass type device.

Fitzgerald also asked that gate systems, if the power is lost, should fail in an open position and override systems should be included to allow emergency responders to lock the gate in the open position.           

While the commissioners felt the matter did not necessitate a public hearing, Commissioner Judy Boggs said she would like to hear more about the concerns raised by the Worcester County Planning Commission over gated communities.