|Title:||Response to letter from Gregory Jones regarding planning action fee for solar waiver|
|Dept:||Department of Community Development, Planning division|
|Date:||December 17, 2002|
|Submitted By:||John McLaughlin|
|Brian Almquist, Interim City Administrator|
|Synopsis:||Gregory Jones submitted a letter to the Mayor and City Council regarding his recent experience in obtaining a solar access waiver agreement associated with the remodel of his home on Faith Street. In his opinion, the $500 fee to process the request was excessive. Further, he discusses the difficulties associated with the ordinance and possible inequities in its application. Finally, he would like to have the fee he paid to obtain his solar access waiver fee rescinded or substantially reduced.|
|Recommendation:||Since staff is not empowered to waive standard planning fees, the issue comes to the Council for consideration. Staff would caution the Council regarding the waiver of fees and the precedent that can be established.|
|Fiscal Impact:||The fee imposed was $500. Any refund of that fee would impact revenues by that amount.|
|Background:|| There are basically two issues here: one being the
application of the solar access ordinance, and the other being the adopted
fee schedule for planning actions.
Ashland was one of the first cities in the United States to adopt a solar access protection ordinance over 20 years ago. Modifications have been made to make it more workable, but it has essentially been applied in its current form for over 15 years. It is our belief that it has been extremely successful in protecting potential solar access for all properties within the City.
But, as with all land use tools, there are lines and boundaries involved. Similarly to living next to a zoning line that allows multi-family development for your neighbor, but only a single family home for you, the solar access ordinance also has boundaries. While based on lot dimensions, slope, and orientation, it is very possible to two adjoining neighbors to be subject to different solar access standards. While it may seem unfair in an individual instance, it is necessary to set limits and boundaries for the application of all regulations.
In other words, all lots have standard setbacks - front yard, side yard, and rear yard. In Ashland, we have also set a setback for building a home in regard to casting a shadow on the neighbor's property to the north. While standard yard setbacks are two-dimensional,the solar setback addresses the third dimension, and in a manner more comprehensive than only setting a maximum building height.
Further, while Dr. Jones lists some of the difficulties in working with the ordinance, it is our experience that the solar access ordinance is seen by many in the community as a way to ensure that development and design of homes is done in a way that limits the impacts on adjoining properties. Height limitations and guarantees of specific amounts of sun on property are all values that add to the livability of our community.
It was understood that because of these boundaries and limits within the ordinance, it is necessary to have a relief valve, or "waiver" procedure. It is essentially a variance to the solar access standards, but is an easier process that involves agreement from the property owner to the north which will receive the additional shading normally not allowed by the ordinance.
This waiver process involves calculations, preparation of a shadow plan, getting signed agreements for recordation, notice to surrounding owners, recording the agreements on the adjoining property's deed as well as other administrative steps. Dr. Jones was able to accomplish most of this himself, with the staff efforts limited to discussions at the counter, review of the submitted information, and preparation and mailing of notices and final recording of the documents.
Our overall fee schedule is designed to provide 75% of the operating costs of the Planning Department. Solar waivers are processed as Staff Permits, and all staff permits are scheduled at $500.
The $500 fee is based on the average amount of time and staff effort involved in processing a request. As seen from Dr. Jones' letter, his process went very smoothly. And due to his personal expertise, he required little staff assistance. However, other similar requests have resulted in requests for hearings from neighboring property owners, requiring additional notice preparations and mailings, preparation of staff reports, a public heating before the Planning Commission with minutes and findings ultimately required. The cost to the City of such a request then quickly exceeds the $500 fee initially provided.
The fee schedule is not perfect in all situations, but we believe it to be a fair schedule for the vast majority of actions processed by our department.
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Mayor, City of Ashland
20 East Main St
Ashland, Oregon 97520
Dear Mr. DeBoer:
This letter represents a formal complaint that I wish to file with regards to the City's "Solar Access Waiver Agreement" application and fee structure. My wife and I own an older home on Faith Ave and planned a small addition/remodel to update the home. Wanting to follow all the rules and do the job correctly, I found that we needed to examine the solar issue of the house and its new addition. After receiving the paperwork from the Planning Department I proceeded to spend what amounted to over six hours of work to do the solar access depiction correctly (and I have a Ph.D.!). After finding that my existing house components were in greater violation than the new addition would be (see attached diagram), but that I was in "violation", I proceeded to get the neighbor that is affected to sign off on the waiver agreement. While the neighbor thought that it was quite silly to do something that resulted in no more of an issue than what existed and that it had no impact on her (the house to the north is set back over 25 feet from the fence and there is never a day that my house casts a shadow on her house! In addition, trees on both properties shade the area all year and much more than the addition ever would!), I told her that it was necessary and she signed the wavier. Upon taking the document to the Planning Department for processing and what I thought was going to be a $25-50 fee, I was absolutely floored to be told it was $500 to file the planning issue.
While I realize that the City needs to recover costs related to processes that it manages, this charge is absolutely out of line and is being applied to something that is not a black and white issue. For my small addition/remodel the fee is 1.5% of the cost and is required even though in this instance the affects are less of an issue than what already exists (from both the existing house and vegetation). In addition, I did all the work figuring out a complex, mathematical issue and the planning department did little more than file the paperwork. While much of the fee structure for other planning issues are scaled according the project impact (i.e., water and electric use, valuation, etc.), the solar access waiver is a blanket fee in which there are no such considerations. While I can understand that there are instances in which the.solar access is critical, in many cases such as this one it is clear that the regulation and fee structure are unreasonable.
In addition to the issues with the fee structure, the actual process of determining a given lot's classification is biased. In using the "Lot Classification Standards" any lot with a relatively small north/south lot dimension on most slopes ranging from flat to steep are required to use Standard "B'. This standard basically says that if you have a narrow lot, then you will be in violation of the solar access with virtually any normal height dwelling. The difference between Standard-'~' and "B" is such that someone with a narrow N/S lot is "allowed" more height and, therefore, is generally exempt from the solar access regulation, while someone with a wider N/S lot dimension is penalized. It also forces one to think about adding on to an existing home in a direction (away from the north side of a lot) that does not make structural nor practical sense in most cases (i.e., such as mine).
Two neighbors living side-by-side on a north/south oriented street in Ashland are wanting to do an addition of the exact same details. Both have lots that are on slightly sloping land to the north (5%) and both have 16-foot tallest shade producing points on their additions. One has an average north/south lot dimension of 77 feet and the other 75 feet. The owner with the longer north/south lot dimension must use the "Setback Standard A" while the other uses "Setback Standard B.' The result is that the owner who use the "Setback Standard A" has a minimum distance that this tallest point must be setback from the northern property line of 25 feet (see Table A), while the other owner has no setback issue (Table B). As a matter of fact, the owner using Table B would have to build something with a 26-foot high shadow casting point before experiencing the same setback issue. Therefore, the narrower lot (by 2 feet) is allowed to "violate" the solar acess issue while the other is in "violation" and must have it agreed to by the neighbor to the north and pay a $500 fee!
As a Geography professor at Southern Oregon University who promotes and teaches reasonable and integrated land use planning, this issue has left me with a very bad taste for how planning structure and fees are imposed. Imposing unrealistic fees make it hard for individuals to make changes that are clearly for the better of the community in general. I would like to request that the City Council review this issue in general, making note that this is not a blanket issue and the fees imposed should be considered accordingly. I would also like to request that the city look specifically look at this case and put yourself in our shoes and I guarantee that you will see how ridiculous the charges that were imposed are. Finally, I would like the fee that I paid either rescinded or substantially reduced.
Gregory V. Jones, Ph.D.
CC: The City Council
Brian Almquist, Interim City Administrator
John McLaughlin, Community Development Director
End of Document - Back to Top
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