City of Ashland, Oregon / City Recorder / City Council Information / Packet Archives 2001-2013 / Year 2005 / 01/18 / Solar Access

Solar Access

Council Communication

Discussion of Solar Access Ordinance - Standards for C-l and E-l Zones when Adjacent to Residential Zones

Meeting Date: January 18, 2005 Primary Staff Contact: John McLaughlin, 552-2043
Department: Community Development Secondary Staff Contact:
Contributing Departments:
Approval: Gino Grimaldi

Concern has been raised regarding the City's Solar Access Ordinance and the standard for C-1, E-1, and M-1 lands which abut residentially zoned lands to the north. Generally speaking, the ordinance allows for a 16 foot tall shadow at the northern property line of commercial properties which abut residentially zoned lands to the north. This differs from the residential standard, where the shadow height is generally 6 feet, although a 16 foot high shadow is allowed under certain circumstances involving slope and lot width.

The specific ordinance language regarding solar setbacks is as follows:

18.70.040 Solar Setbacks

A. Setback Standard A. This setback is designed to insure that shadows are no greater than six (6) feet at the north property line. Buildings on lots which are classified as Standard A, and zoned for residential uses, shall be set back from the northern lot line according to the following formula:

(H - 6')

0.445 + S

SSB = the minimum distance in feet that the tallest shadow producing point which creates the longest shadow onto the northerly property must be set back from the northern property line.
H = the height in feet of the highest shade producing point of the structure which casts the longest shadow beyond the northern property line.
S = the slope of the lot, as defined in this Chapter.
B. Setback Standard B. This setback is designed to insure that shadows are no greater than sixteen (16) feet at the north property line. Buildings for lots which are classified as Standard B, or for any lot zoned G-1, E-1 or M-1, or for any lot not abutting a residential zone to the north, shall be set back from the northern lot line as set forth in the following formula:

 (H - 16')

0.445 + S

The commercial zones are held to a different solar standard than residential, just as they are held to different standards for building height, lot coverage and setbacks. These are substantially different forms of development subject to different overall standards. However, as with all ordinances, there are situations which raise concern.

There have been few concerns raised regarding this issue, due in part to the location of most C-1, E-1 and M-1 zones in relation to residential zones. In most instances, the zones are separated by a right-of-way, railroad, or similar distance. However, there are examples where the zones abut, such as just south of Williamson Way; in the downtown at the Copeland site next to the residential lots on "B" Street; along Ashland Street across from the Ashland Shopping Center; and along Siskiyou Boulevard across from the university and beyond Walker Avenue. In many of these instances, the commercial development already exists, or it is in the form of converted residential structures. The area near Williamson Way represents only one of two undeveloped E-1 areas abutting residential, with the other being adjacent to Interstate 5 at the south interchange, currently outside the city limits.

Residents of Williamson Way have raised concern over the potential development of commercial structures on the recently approved Falcon Heights commercial subdivision. By ordinance, the developer is allowed to create up to a 16 foot high shadow at the northern property line. However, due to the site design of the project, it does not appear that a shadow that high will occur. The City's Site Design and Use Standards require that buildings front a street, and that parking generally be provided to the rear of the buildings. In this instance, there is a parking area between the residentially zoned lands and the potential building sites (no buildings have been proposed at this time). The distance between the building sites and the property line varies between approximately 50 and 60 feet. A site plan of the development is attached as well as a generalized schematic cross-section of the potential solar access issues for the site. The cross-section is not based on actual site measurements, but is rather a representation of the issues involved.

The height of a shadow is measured from "natural grade" so while the development has raised the parking areas a few feet above the neighboring residential properties, the developer will not be able to benefit from the added fill. Conversely, some of the neighborhood residences were excavated down to maintain grade with Williamson Way, which could allow for a higher shadow at the property line. On the cross- section schematic, this grade change is shown in relation to a 5% natural grade, and that the solar shadow height is measured from natural grade, not from the higher fill grade, or lower excavated grade.

Two solar shadow heights based on the solar angle on December 21 are depicted: one for a six foot shadow and one for a 16 foot shadow. It shows that at approximately 50 feet back from the northern property line, a commercial structure of 25 feet in height could be constructed which would result in a six foot shadow at natural grade at the northern property line. This would be relatively normal two-story office style structure. At 60 feet back, the height could be approximately 30 feet while still maintaining a six foot shadow. The 16 foot solar shadow standard would allow for a structure of approximately 40 feet, the maximum height for the E-1 zone.

The City of Ashland was one of the first cities in the United States to adopt a solar access ordinance. The purpose of the ordinance is as follows:
---- The purpose of the Solar Access Chapter is to provide protection of a reasonable amount of sunlight from shade from structures and vegetation whenever feasible to all parcels in the City to preserve the economic value of solar radiation falling on structures, investments in solar energy systems, and the options for future uses of solar energy.

While many have assumed the solar setbacks were to limit heights and address issues of scale, it is really an energy-based ordinance. The height limits and increased setbacks have been beneficial side effects that have served our community well.

It is Staff s understanding that the added shadow height for commercial uses was allowed in the ordinance to ensure that effective commercial buildings (with different lot coverage, height limits, and setbacks compared to residential) could be achieved on the commercial/employment property, while still allowing a reasonable solar access standard for the residential or commercial properties to the north. Prior to the solar access ordinance, a large single story commercial structure (such as a warehouse building) could be built ten feet from the property line adjacent to a residential zone. Or a 35 foot tall two story commercial structure could be built 20 feet from the property line. While the 16 foot solar shadow is ten feet higher than the normal residential standard, it still allows for ample roof-top solar access, the purpose of the ordinance. The solar ordinance attempted to balance the development potential prior to adoption, with the need to maintain a "reasonable amount of sunlight" for the residential properties.

As stated previously, concern has been raised regarding the impacts of the ordinance, specifically involving the residences along Williamson Way that abut the new Falcon Heights commercial subdivision to the south.

Related City Policies:
From the Comprehensive Plan, Policy XI-3 b):

"A reasonable amount of solar access shall be preserved for all land parcels."

Council Options:
Based up discussion and public input, the Council could direct the Staff to prepare an ordinance amendment modifying the solar ordinance to create more restrictive standards for shadow heights associated with commercial developments adjacent to residential zones; or the Council could choose to maintain the current ordinance standards.
Staff Recommendation:
There have been very few issues raised regarding this issue from past developments within the City, and Staff is hesitant to recommend an ordinance change at this time. We believe that there may be a way to reach agreement between the developer of Falcon Heights and the neighbors on Williamson Way to address their specific concerns without amending the ordinance for the entire city.

Should the Council choose to modify the ordinance, Staff will have to assess the potential Measure 37 impacts of increasing the development restrictions associated with the recommended amendment.

Potential Motions:
Move to initiate an ordinance amendment to the Solar Access ordinance to restrict shadow heights to six feet for C-1, E-1, and M-1 zoned properties abutting residentially zoned lands.

Falcon Heights Vicinity Map
Falcon Heights Site Plan
Schematic Cross Section of allowable building heights with 6' and 16' solar shadows

End of Document - Back to Top

Pay Your Utility Bill
Connect to AFN
Request Conservation Evaluation
Requests for Proposals
Request Building Inspection
Apply for Building Permits
Apply for Other Permits, Licenses
Register for Recreation Programs

Today's Fire Danger is Low