A change in Utah County's critical environment zoning may allow developers in Hobblecreek Canyon to design a better project, but it could also create havoc with future mountain communities by allowing more and steeper roads.

The Utah County Commission wrestled Tuesday with matching the text in the zoning requirements for recreational resorts to that for mountain home developments - essentially taking out the 5 percent limit on the exception that allows roads to be built at a 12-percent grade. Roads built at 12-percent grade are limited to runs of 1000 feet.Ron and Tracy MacDonald want the limitation removed because their proposed Cottages in the left fork of Hobblecreek Canyon project in the left fork of the canyon will be more attractive and less intrusive to the environment without having to keep under the 5 percent limit. They won't have to make cuts into the mountain as deep or fill as much area.

Ron MacDonald said he has worked with the county engineering staff to try and come up with the best solution for the 39-home project and for the county as a whole. He said flexible engineering could be in everyone's best interest but it's also misunderstood.

"We're called self-serving by both sides," he said. "We're stuck in the middle."

He said only 15 properties in Utah County are zoned CE-2 or critical environment and much of that is either already developed or undevelopable.

Tracy MacDonald said it's unfortunate that the issue has become site specific as it's been discussed.

"It's a hardship for us to be held to a standard for those projects not being proposed," she said.

Commissioner David Gardner said that relaxing the standard would undoubtedly encourage and increase the amount of development in the canyons.

"It's a lot bigger issue than just leveling out the 5 percent," he said. "It only makes sense to be flexible if we can still guarantee safety."

Commissioner Jerry Grover said whatever the road grade allowed, snow and ice would change everything in the winters and increase the safety hazard.

"Let's face it, if we approve a subdivision without adequate fire access, we'd be potentially liable, wouldn't we?" Grover said.

Springville Fire Chief Phil Whitney said an increase in slope slows down emergency vehicles and reduces the response time. In addition, switchbacks create another problem with turning around, he said.

County Engineer Clyde Naylor said the county needs to look at basing a road design on national road safety standards and not on zoning sensitivity. Planning Commissioner Steve White said the county should not back away from its standard without considerably more study.

Commissioner Gary Herbert said a looser standard may give others the opportunity to be irresponsible.

"I do believe there may need to be more specific criteria," he said. "There's got to be a better way to do this. Let's find it."

County Planner Jeff Mendenhall said the 5 percent standard has worked for 20 years.

The commission continued discussion until the second meeting in September to give county staff time to research options and issues on liability.