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Planning Commission

Minutes
Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    

ASHLAND PLANNING COMMISSION
REGULAR MEETING
MINUTES
December 13, 2011
 

CALL TO ORDER
Chair Pam Marsh called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. in the Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 East Main Street.

Commissioners Present:   Staff Present:
Michael Dawkins
Eric Heesacker
Pam Marsh
Debbie Miller
Melanie Mindlin
  Bill Molnar, Community Development Director
Derek Severson, Associate Planner
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor

 
     
Absent Members:   Council Liaison:
Mick Church   Russ Silbiger, absent

 
ANNOUCEMENTS
Commissioner Marsh announced the next joint meeting with the Transportation Commission will be held in January. Community Development Director Bill Molnar announced the City Council passed first reading of an ordinance reducing the Planning Commission membership to seven members; and at the next Council meeting the Mayor will be recommending the appointment of a seventh member. Mr. Molnar stated the Pedestrian Places amendments approved by the Council will go into effect on December 15, and noted staff has been asked to go back before Council with an overview of where the changes apply.  Mr. Molnar commented on the upcoming meeting schedule and stated the second meeting in January will focus on the Green Code Amendments, and in February the amendments to the Historic Design Standards will come forward. Commissioner Marsh requested they discuss the annual retreat at an upcoming meeting, and provided a brief update of the Chamber breakfast where the TSP Update was discussed.
 

CONSENT AGENDA
A.  Approval of Minutes

  1. October 11, 2011 Regular Meeting.
  2. October 25, 2011 Special Meeting.

Commissioners Miller/Mindlin m/s to approve the Consent Agenda. Voice Vote: all AYES. Motion passed 5-0.
 

PUBLIC FORUM
No one came forward to speak.
 

TYPE II PUBLIC HEARINGS
A.   
PLANNING ACTION: #2011-01576
SUBJECT PROPERTY: 1554 Webster Street (on the Southern Oregon University campus)
APPLICANT: American Campus Community Services              
DESCRIPTION: A request for Site Review approval to construct a new single-story dining hall near the intersection of  Wightman and Webster Streets, two new four-story residence halls near the intersection of Webster and Stadium Streets, two parking lots and associated site improvements on the Southern Oregon University campus at 1554 Webster Street. Also included are requests for Conditional Use Permit approval to allow buildings that exceed the maximum length and vary from the locations identified in the SOU Masterplan and to exceed the 40 foot height allowance in the SO zoning district, and a request for a Tree Removal Permit to remove 18 trees that are 18-inches in diameter-at-breast-height or greater. The application involves the demolition of five residences and their associated accessory structures near the intersection of Webster and Stadium Streets to accommodate the proposed development.  COMPREHENSIVE PLAN DESIGNATION: Southern Oregon University; ZONING: SO; ASSESSOR’S MAP: 39 1E 10 CD; TAX LOT: 4200
Commissioner Marsh read aloud the public hearing procedures for land use hearings.
 
Ex Parte Contact
Commissioners Dawkins, Heesacker, Marsh, Miller and Mindlin declared site visits. Commissioner Miller indicated she was in a meeting where someone from SOU mentioned that the street lighting associated with this application would improve Ashland Street.
 
Commissioner Marsh explained that due to the volume of information, including the newly submitted items, the public hearing for this application will remain open and deliberations will be postponed to the January meeting. She stated tonight they will hear from staff, the applicant, and members of the public; and following the testimony portion Commissioners will have the opportunity to ask questions and issue their requests for additional information. She added that in order to leave here tonight with a good understanding of the application, she has offered to extend the applicant’s 15-minute time limit.
 
Staff Report
Associate Planner Derek Severson addressed the Commission and provided an overview of the application before them. He stated the proposal from Southern Oregon University is to construct two new residence halls off Stadium Street and a new dining hall at the intersection of Wightman and Webster. The dining hall is one-story and 27,500 sq.ft in size; the south residence hall is four-stories and 105,000 sq.ft., and the north residence hall is four-stories and 89,443 sq.ft. Mr. Severson commented on the 2010 SOU Master Plan and how this area was envisioned for development. He stated the Master Plan showed four buildings around a central quad and integrated the Greensprings complex and dining hall to enclose the quad and create a clear residential zone. He stated the current application differs from the Master Plan in that: 1) the dining hall is shifted to the intersection of Webster and Wightman, 2) the four residential hall buildings have been combined into two larger buildings, and 3) the south hall is set back from Ashland Street,  and 4) the Greensprings complex no longer fronts the quad. Mr. Severson stated this application also involves the removal of five residential units and their associated accessory structures, the installation of a new parking lot at the corner of Stadium and Webster, and the removal of 22 significant trees on the property.
 
Mr. Severson summarized the key elements of the application as follows:
1)
Tree Removal Permits for 22 significant trees.
2)
Site Review Permits for the dining hall, south residence hall, north residence hall, and two parking lots.
3)
Conditional Use Permits for the height of the residence halls, length of the residence halls, location of the south residence hall, location of the dining hall, and location of the parking.

Mr. Severson continued his overview of the application and commented on the following elements of the proposal:
 
Tree Removal
Mr. Severson reviewed the tree removal site plan and identified the locations of the trees proposed for removal.
 
Dining Hall
Mr. Severson reviewed the hall’s elevations and noted the Master Plan strongly discouraged the use of single story buildings. He stated staff had raised concern regarding this building’s sense of entry and how it relates to the street; and the applicant’s have responded with revised drawings. He stated staff is generally satisfied with the revised drawings and they appear to comply with the standards.
 
Residence Halls
Mr. Severson stated the buildings are each approximately 400 ft. long and front a central pavilion. He stated at the pre-application stage staff raised concern with the sense of entry, particularly on the south hall and how it relates to Ashland Street, and noted staff’s suggestion for an archway treatment similar to Churchill Hall. In addition, he stated staff has concerns with the roofline and believes it should be broken up, and would like to see further design features used to break up the length of the building. Staff also believes the trash should be relocated.  
 
Transportation
Mr. Severson explained at the Master Plan level there were a number of required studies that were deferred. Specifically, the Master Plan required that the following studies be prepared prior to application: Transportation Impact Analysis and Access Management Strategies, Pedestrian Safety Plan, Transportation Demand Management Strategies, Emergency Vehicle Access, and Parking Requirements for On-Campus Student Housing. Mr. Severson stated due to the level of transportation related issues involved with this proposal, this application has been scheduled for a public hearing before the Transportation Commission on December 15, and staff will report back on their discussion and recommendation(s) at the January meeting.
 
In summary, Mr. Severson stated the primary areas of focus for staff are:
 
Pedestrian Safety:
1)
Ensuring there is “big picture” consideration of the circulation changes in shifting 704 beds to the North Campus Village and how they will fit within the fabric of the campus and community. This will need to look at the Gateway Plaza intersection and other un-signalized crossings; treatment of campus circulation routes; and supporting monitoring, education and TDM measures.
2)
Clarification of what improvements are to be done with the project, by whom, and when.

Building Design:
1) 
Sense of entry and relationship to major streets with stronger entries, corresponding site planning to include detailed landscaping treatment, pedestrian connections, and the relocation of the trash compactor.
2)
Better address length and articulation guidelines in terms of providing functional recesses or courtyard areas, or meaningful offsets to break up the building length.

Transportation & Parking Management Demand:
1) 
While new parking areas are proposed, this proposal amounts to a net reduction of 44 parking spaces for the North Campus.
2)
Impacts to the neighborhood and on-street parking from students and visitors/events.
3)
North Campus Village location is intended to be walkable to the academic core, and resident students will not be able to park in commuter student lots and elsewhere on campus.
4)
Gateway Plaza intersection and other crossing treatments.
5)
Does the Commission believe parking and TDM needs to be further addressed?

Questions for Staff
Commissioner Miller asked if staff had recommended making the dining hall two-stories. Mr. Severson stated while the Master Plan discourages single-story buildings, the applicant’s have stated the building’s 40 ft. height is compatible with the residential neighborhood.
 
Commissioner Mindlin voiced her interest in the difference between the Master Plan and this proposal in terms of pedestrian circulation. She questioned if the new dining hall blocks access to McNeal Pavilion and asked about sidewalks and creating a more direct route along Wightman.
 
Applicant’s Presentation
Craig Morris and John Eldridge/Mr. Morris stated this is the biggest project the University has ever taken on, and believes this will greatly enhance the recruitment and retainment of students. He apologized for the speed in which they are moving this forward, but their goal is to have this housing ready for fall 2013. Mr. Eldridge stated this project will shift 700 beds to the northside of campus, and will diversify their housing stock and allow them to meet their enrollment needs. He stated the Cascade Complex is undesirable to students and renovating it is cost prohibitive. He stated they went door to door and held open houses and the students are very excited about this project; and the feedback from neighbors has been positive as well. Mr. Eldridge stated the two main themes for this project are sustainability and pedestrian safety, and noted their long-standing and positive relationship with the City.
 
Kurt Schultz/SERA Architects/Mr. Schultz stated the Cascade Complex is very inefficient and its removal is what is driving this new campus village, which consolidates the residential and dining facilities. He commented that master plans are intended to be the framework and adjustments are common once development begins. He stated the dining hall outlined in the Master Plan was too small and too far away, and the original quad was huge, with four downtown Portland city blocks fitting inside. He stated they believe their variations from the Master Plan result in significant improvements to the campus village, and noted they are striving for the highest levels of sustainability and are on track for LEED gold.
 
Mr. Schultz stated the three main components of this project are the dining hall/community center and the two residence halls. He explained the south hall will contain suite style apartments, and clarified the north hall was recessed back from Ashland Street in order to create a more humanely-scaled quad. He added this modification also allowed them to create a land bank which will be the location of the future mixed-use building. Mr. Schultz explained the decision to create two residence halls instead of four is due to the economic realities that two buildings are more efficient and sustainable. He added four buildings would have resulted in 1/3 higher energy consumption and would not be economically viable. He explained the dining hall was moved in order to make it more centrally located for the students, and stated its new location encourages safe crossings at the designated intersection.
 
Mr. Schultz commented on the parking element and stated they are proposing a 100-stall parking lot at Stadium and Webster, and a 55-stall lot on South College Way. He stated with the elimination of the parking lot for the dining hall, there is a net loss of parking, however Kittleson’s parking analysis shows the parking availability is still acceptable. He also commented on the location of the trash compactor and explained it needs to be close to all three residence halls but also accessible to Recology. Mr. Schultz commented on the style of the buildings and stated all three will be in the same “SOU Mediterranean style” seen throughout campus.
 
Mr. Schultz reviewed the dining hall and community center layout. He stated they wanted tall ceilings because is it such a big room, and stated the cupola on top will bring in additional daylight and also the mechanical equipment. He stated this building will have a recessed porch with outdoor seating, and believes this lower scale works well with the residential buildings across the street. He also commented on the residence halls and noted the north hall will house upper division students and the south hall will house the lower division. He stated the quad is the social center of the design, and each hall consists of a central two-story lounge, and two wings off each side. He stated they feel this is a very successful design and noted the use of design elements to break up the mass and minimize the appearance of height. He added while he appreciates staff’s input, he disagrees with the suggestion to install an arched entryway. Overall, he stated the design is good and they are very proud of what they have put forward, and believes SOU and the City will be proud as well.
 
Phil Worth/Kittleson & Associates/Noted he is also working with the City on their long-range TSP Plan and is aware of the City’s transportation goals and needs. Mr. Worth stated of the five required studies, four are already complete and the Emergency Vehicle Access plan will be provided in January. He commented that the current use of the parking supply is well below operational capacity, and when the proposed dorms are fully occupied the University will still be within capacity standards at 84%. Mr. Worth commented on the TDM strategies and stated the strongest measure they are taking is to preserve students on campus. He stated students will find the proposed housing to be attractive well into their upper class years. Regarding pedestrian safety, he stated they take this issue very seriously and have looked closely at all crossings along Siskiyou Blvd., with particular emphasis at the intersection of Wightman and Siskiyou. He stated they have considered a number of treatments and will continue to work with the City to evaluate their options to ensure the crossings are safe for both motorists and pedestrians.
 
Commissioner Marsh requested Mr. Worth review the pedestrian safety elements. Mr. Worth stated for the un-signalized crossings, their recommendation is to install rapid light beacons, and to use countdown pedestrian crossing signals for the signalized intersections. He stated these two features will reinforce where to cross, and will also let drivers know there are people waiting to cross. He added they are looking at further treatments for Wightman and Siskiyou, since they believe a significant amount of pedestrian activity will occur at this location.
 
Questions of the Applicant
Mr. Worth clarified they are looking at the excess of signage along Siskiyou Blvd and are evaluating where signage should be placed. Regarding the traffic data collected for AM and PM peaks, he discounted the accusation that this information was gathered prior to the start of the school year and stated they deliberately held off on collecting this data so that they could gather this once school was in session; and this is the reason why this information was presented so late in the application process.
 
Comment was made questioning the pedestrian circulation, sidewalks, and lack of parkrows. Mr. Schultz explained how parkrows would impact the well established trees, and stated their intent was to direct the pedestrian traffic to the current tree-lined, wide walkway. Comment was made that the applicant did not appear to make any efforts to connect this development to the pedestrian place zone across the street.
 
Comment was made questioning if the applicant has considered an underground crossing to move students across Siskiyou Blvd.
 
Comment was made that one of the requirements of the Master Plan was to conduct a TDM study and provide a timeline for implementation. Mr. Worth stated the initial draft of this study is included in the packet and the next step is to evaluate the current programs and develop a set of strategies and timeline. Comment was made that this was a requirement of the Master Plan and the Commission will expect for this to be provided when this comes back in January.
 
Staff’s suggestion for an arched treatment on the south residential hall was noted, and it was questioned when the multi-use building might go in. Mr. Morris explained they cannot use state funds for the multi-use building, and therefore they will have to wait until the economic situation improves and can secure a private developer and financing, which may take 10-12 years. He added while an open archway through the building would not make this project viable, they are open to architectural changes that accomplish the intent. Comment was made that since the multi-use building may not come forward for some time, the Commission should consider the visual impacts of the south building from Ashland Street.
 
Comment was made that while the focus for the students will be the quad, the building facades that face the street should also be attractive; and it was questioned if there is a feasible way to raise the centerline of the roof and adjust the building facades. Mr. Schultz stated that bisecting the buildings with an archway would pose serious issues, but they could consider adding an arch to the façade. 
 
Concern was expressed regarding the information that has been presented on how students will cross the arterials. Comment was made that the Stadium Street crossing is dangerous, and a better crossing should be reconfigured so that students can safely get over to the Market of Choice shopping center.
 
Comment was made questioning how the loading area for the dining hall will function. Mr. Schultz explained they have three types of delivery trucks. The standard trucks that do daily deliveries as well as the garbage trucks will work just fine; the long semi-trailer trucks will not fit into the loading area, but these deliveries only happen once or twice a week and are typically done early in the morning. He stated for these deliveries the trucks will pull up to the curb and wheel in their goods.
 
Commissioners Miller/Miller m/s to continue the hearing past 9:30 p.m. Voice Vote: all AYES. Motion passed 5-0.
 
Public Testimony
Colin Swales/143 Eighth Street/Stated Siskiyou Blvd does not need to be a four-laned road and shared his experience of seeing a student nearly hit while crossing  Ashland Street. Mr. Swales expressed his disappointment that this area was not selected as one of the pedestrian places zones and stated the pedestrian sidewalks along the Ashland Street frontage are totally inadequate in terms of the amount of pedestrian traffic that will be generated. He commented that the proposed residence halls are massive and is disappointed that the drawings provided by the applicant give a birds-eye view instead of a human perspective. He suggested three-dimensional walkthroughs be created to help the commissioners get a better perspective of the proposal. He also commented that while this area is outside the Detail Site Review Zone, these buildings will be visible from a main arterial, and suggested they come back with some type of treatment for the Ashland street frontage.
 
Paige Townsend & Nathan Broom/RVTD/Ms. Townsend stated they all agree that this project is a great value to the community, but they do have concerns about the trip generations caused by the students, both at this site and the campus as a whole. She explained this area is one of the top five trip generator focus areas they have been evaluating and feel the interaction between the University’s Commuter Resource Center and RVTD’s Transportation Demand Management Resources could be strengthened. Ms. Townsend commented on RVTD’s services and programs and noted their desire to regain a bus pass program with the University. She commented on SOU’s TDM program and recommended the City act as the enforcement arm of SOU’s program; she also commented on ways the University could expand its program on site, including the use of an onsite coordinator, and strengthening their education and encouragement on campus. Ms. Townsend disagreed that the Commuter Resource Center is effective enough to provide the TDM program by themselves; believes there are ways their program can be improved; and would like to see the University work closer with RVTD and enact programs that have longevity.

Applicant’s Rebuttal
Craig Morris/Clarified the University provides monthly bus passes to all faculty and staff who request them, and many of their employees take advantage of this. He stated the students used to pay for a similar program and have to vote on whether to reenact this. He explained the students have expressed concern about the lack of coverage that is currently provided, however now that RVTD is expanding their bus service to Medford there has been interest in going back to this program. Mr. Morris stated students can currently ride the bus to the higher education center in Medford, but they can’t get a bus ride back. He added the students who are most at risk for needing passes are not necessarily the students living on campus, but those who have to commute. Mr. Morris also commented on why this project is moving quickly and explained in fall of 2010 they had a 26% increase in student enrollment, and an additional 4% increase this fall, which is unheard of nationally. He stated the majority of these students are coming from out of state and these increases have sped up the timeline for getting this housing on the ground. 
 
Commissioners Mindlin/Dawkins m/s to continue the public hearing to January 10, 2012. Voice Vote: all AYES. Motion passed 5-0.
 
Final Questions/Request for Information
Commissioner Mindlin stated her primary interest is the circulation pattern and the entries into the dining hall. Commissioner Marsh noted her disappointment that the University was asking for so many exceptions to the 2010 Master Plan. She stated she is particularly interested in: 1) the sidewalks along Wightman and Stadium, including making these wider and adding parkrows, 2) minimizing the bulk and scale of the proposed residential halls by visually breaking them up and making them more accessible, 3) whether the existing dorms can be better engaged and including the Greensprings complex in the quad, and 4) the TDM component and making sure this relates to the Master Plan and the campus as a whole.
 

OTHER BUSINESS
Commissioner Dawkins shared an article that was published 100 years ago in the Mail Tribune regarding the need to produce, cultivate and raise products locally and alleviate the need to import goods into the valley. 
 

ADJOURNMENT
Meeting adjourned at 10:05 p.m.
 
Respectfully submitted,
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor
 

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