Agendas and Minutes

City Council (View All)

Study Session

Thursday, October 13, 2005

October 13, 2005
Civic Center Council Chambers
1175 E. Main Street

Mayor Morrison called the meeting to order at 5:00 p.m. in the Civic Center Council Chambers.

Councilors Hardesty, Amarotico, Jackson, Silbiger and Chapman were present. Councilor Hartzell was absent.

1.  Conservation Density Bonus Discussion
Interim Community Development Director Bill Molnar provided a brief explanation of the current density bonus conservation program and commented on the City's history regarding density bonuses. Mr. Molnar noted that the Planning Commission voted 6-3 to recommend that the Council amend the Land Use Ordinance to allow a 15% conservation density bonus for builders that construct 85% of their homes to the Earth Advantage Standards. He noted that Staff from both the Planning and Conservation Departments concurred with the Planning Commission's recommendation.

Electric Director Dick Wanderscheid explained that Staff has been working towards a change in this program because it is quite easy for developers to comply with the current requirements necessary to receive the 15% density bonus. He stated that Staff has come to the conclusion that using a simple table does not work very well towards achieving their goals.

Staff presented Council with the following three options:

1) Do nothing
2) Amend the ordinance to require that a 15% Conservation Bonus can be achieved by constructing 85% of homes to the Earth Advantage standards. 
3) Amend the ordinance to eliminate the earning of any density bonus for conservation housing.

Mr. Wanderscheid stated that Staff recommends Option 2, but noted that this was a policy decision that should be made by the Council.

Conservation Analyst Larry Giardina addressed the Council and explained that so far the Earth Advantage Program has been more homeowner/homebuyer driven than contractor driven. He noted that the City provides a $1,000 incentive to contractors for participating in this program, but stated that the majority of the energy conservation and financial incentives go to the homeowner. Mr. Giardina noted that there are approximately 20 Earth Advantage certified homes currently in Ashland and stated that this was a fairly small number compared to the total number of houses that have been built since the City purchased the Earth Advantage Program two year ago.

Mr. Giardina clarified that in addition to the conservation requirements, an Earth Advantage home has a minimum requirement for energy conservation of at least 15% better than the building code.

Comment was made questioning why the City would not ask that 100% of the homes be built to the Earth Advantage Standards in order to obtain the density bonus, as opposed to the 85% being proposed by Staff. Mr. Wanderscheid explained that the 85% figure was based on their experience with the old ordinance and stated that this figure would provide some flexibility.

Mr. Wanderscheid clarified that typically there are no visible differences between an Earth Advantage home and a standard home. He stated that except for the solar water heater, it looks just like a normal house. Councilors Amarotico and Chapman commented on their experience with their Earth Advantage homes.

Council discussed the value of this program and the various aspects of how resources would be saved. Comment was made that the whole idea of density bonuses should be addressed before the Council approves any changes.

Pam Vavra/2800 Dead Indian Memorial Rd/Stated that the community she formerly lived in used the LEED system and stated that this program might be an alternative.

Mr. Wanderscheid clarified that LEED was a good program, but stated that it is primarily used for big commercial developments, not residential buildings.

Planning Commissioners Dave Dotterrer and John Stromberg addressed the Council. Mr. Dotterrer shared the discussion of the Planning Commission and suggested that this issue be looked at in more detail. He shared his personal experience with selling and purchasing his home and how density bonuses affected the lot size.

Mr. Stromberg commented on the similarities with AFN and the way this program has been suggested for proceeding. He stated that the way to avoid another situation like AFN is for the City to perform due diligence and provided the following comments to the Council:

• This is not an attack on Earth Advantage.
• The current energy efficient density bonus program produces no significant benefit to the community.
• The proposed Earth Advantage density bonus program and the Electric Utility's Earth Advantage subsidy program and not coordinated and provide duplicate rewards.
• Developers reap large benefits and the homebuyer becomes responsible for conforming to the Earth Advantage measures. The incentive isn't going to the party who must execute the Earth Advantage measures.
• Staff must evaluate, inspect, negotiate corrections and keep records for each house that participates to ensure compliance.
• No one has reliable numbers or estimates of the operating costs and benefits of the density bonus approach.
• The combined energy savings of the Earth Advantage houses in a development is less than the total energy consumption of the development when the density bonus houses are added in - and so the Earth Advantage density bonus program would actually increase total energy consumption in a development rather than reduce it.
• No one has quantified the cost to the community of building more densely than the Comprehensive Plan calls for.
• What is the effect on the buildable lands inventory and the effect on residential growth rates as a result of density bonus programs?
• The Earth Advantage program is owned by an independent nonprofit organization. Is it wise or legal to incorporate policies that the City doesn't control?

Mr. Stromberg stated that this was a policy decision that seems to be slipping through without public discussion and provided the following suggestions to the Council:

1) Stop the current energy efficiency density bonus program.
2) Do not create another program until due diligence has been performed.
3) Do not proceed further with the Earth Advantage program until the City Council makes a formal policy decision with public input.

Council continued discussion on the issue of density bonuses. Suggestion was made for the requirement to be 100% of the homes constructed to the Earth Advantage standards in order for developers to receive the density bonus. Comment was made that the City needs to take a good look at this program and perform a cost benefit analysis.

It was noted that there would be opportunity for public input if the Council decides to amend the current ordinance.

Mr. Wanderscheid stated that the current program was "broke" and requested input from Council as to how they would like to proceed. It was clarified that if the Council adopts the Earth Advantage Program, it would rescind the current program. Council shared their comments and Staff stated that they would bring back numbers regarding energy efficiency, residential construction and a cost benefit analysis so that Council could have an informed debate.

Meeting adjourned at 6:33 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Barbara Christensen, City Recorder

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