Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Regular Meeting (cont. of Northlight)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005




SEPTEMBER 27, 2005



Chair John Fields called the meeting to order at 7:05 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1175 E. Main Street.


               Commissioners Present:                  John Fields, Chair

                                                                           Olena Black

                                                                           John Stromberg

                                                                           Mike Morris

                                                                           Dave Dotterrer

                                                                           Allen Douma

                                                                           Russ Chapman

                                                                           Michael Dawkins

               Absent Members:                                             Kerry KenCairn (stepped down at the last meeting)

               Council Liaison:                                Jack Hardesty

               Staff Present:                                     Bill Molnar, Interim Planning Director

                                                                           Mike Reeder, Assistant City Administrator

                                                                           Sue Yates, Executive Secretary



SUBJECT PROPERTY:  165 Lithia Way and 123 North First Street

OWNER/APPLICANT:  Archerd & Dresner, LLC and Redco, LLC


Bill Street, citizen, asked Reeder if the applicant presents any proposed changes, will the citizens will be allowed to comment on any proposed changes.  Reeder said any citizen(s) would have seven days to respond if there is new evidence.


JOHN HASSEN, attorney for the applicant, 717 Murphy Road, Medford, OR, said as long as a rebuttal is offered for information stated earlier, no one has a right to leave the record open.  ORS197.763 states if there is going to be a request to keep the record open, it has to be made at the first public hearing on the matter.


Site Visits and Ex Parte Contacts

Morris saw George Kramer at the Outdoor Store.

Stromberg has had no new site visits since the last meeting.  The last time there were people who had spoken to Stromberg about size, bulk, appropriateness, relationship to the surrounding properties and affect on Lithia Way. 

Black read the articles in Daily Tidings relating to this project.  She saw Bill Street today but they did not have a discussion.



EVAN ARCHERD introduced George Kramer.


GEORGE KRAMER, 386 N. Laurel, said their written rebuttal is in the packet.  The public has every right to disagree with Staff and the Historic Commission.  However, it is hard not to believe the continued repetition of the unfounded statements go beyond any misunderstanding or disagreement about City goals, but is instead part of a coordinated effort to present a false impression of this project, misleading the Commission and the public about what Northlight really is.


Archerd clarified the issues that have been raised. 

HVAC System – The HVAC system is a system for the garage only.  The two buildings have separate HVAC systems.  All systems are separate as well as structurally independent as provided by a letter in the packet from the architect.

Affordable Housing  - The project consists of a variety of housing units and types, including studio units that are less than 500 square feet and rented at very affordable rates.  No pricing has been established for any of the units.  The goal has been to provide housing in a variety of economic levels.  The applicants intend have a number of units that will be available for rent.

Setback – They have been accused by some of trying to do an end run around the planning code to avoid the Special Setback requirement.  Every public document indicates the Special Setback was never intended to apply to Lithia Way. 


This project is a result of hundreds of individual’s input.  When you design by consensus, not everyone gets what they want.  Eighty-five signatures of small business owners in Ashland have been presented.  Those owners have a huge stake in the future of this town.  Archerd said Kramer gave a history of Lithia Way.   All of past processes point to the fact that Lithia Way should be included as part of the downtown section of Ashland and should be rezoned C-1-D. 


Archerd noted that in their submittal as part of their rebuttal, the first paragraph states: “The Northlight project has a 12 foot sidewalk and the buildings are set back five feet beyond the sidewalk.”  The sentence should read:  “The Northlight project has a 12 foot sidewalk and the building entrances are set back five feet beyond the sidewalk.”


Dawkins said the couplet did not happen in 1949.  It happened in the mid-1950’s.  The applicants have put a lot of emphasis on the fact this is going to be another Main Street. 


Kramer said the Oregon Department of Transportation planned the couplets all through the state in 1949 in response to post-war development.


Dotterrer asked the setback in front across the street (the new building on Lithia Way).  Jerome White said it is 8 ½ feet.


Chapman asked about the traffic report, final sentence of the second to the last paragraph that states:  “The increase to the surrounding roadways will be less than five percent in any direction.”  What does that mean?


Archerd said the traffic engineer is saying that Lithia Way has a current traffic flow of 14,415 average daily trips.  The increase to First Street and B Street would be 518 new trips.  Five hundred eighteen trips divided by the sum results in less than five percent.  The intersections are not even close to capacity.


Bill Street asked if there was any new information.  Dawkins stated he read through everything carefully and he could not find anything new.  It was more reiterating what Kramer and Archerd have already said.  Dotterrer confirmed.



Fields suggested they define the issues, have a discussion on each one and take a straw poll on where they stand.


Dawkins said this is too big a project to discuss piecemeal.  Over the years, there have been projects that have changed the complexion of this town.  The first was in the early 1950’s when the people in power thought we should have commercial zoning all the way from the Plaza to south of the college.  But a few people disagreed, saying that would destroy Siskiyou Boulevard.   They ended up not extending the commercial.  There is another example in the 1920’s when some people thought there should be little auto courts up and down Ashland Creek.  The women in the town objected and we got Lithia Park.  He sees the project before us tonight as sprawl and it is taking away from our compactness and what makes our town viable.  He believes if the project is built, it will destroy the character of our town.  The scale and mass is inappropriate for Ashland.


Chapman responded if we don’t want three-story buildings, then we need to change the rules and say “no more.”  He does not believe this project has violated this standard.  Part of what makes the downtown interesting is that we have one, two and three storey buildings, both large and small.  He believes this project will work and go a long way in making our town interesting.


Dotterrer, Stromberg and Fields outlined the issues that have been presented.  They are as follows: 

  • Excessive scale and bulk.
  • How does the project impact transition to the Railroad District?
  • Light, air and vision.
  • Human scale.
  • Residential dominating retail in a C-1 zone.
  • Traffic flow problems
  • Big box separation of buildings – Administrative Variance
  • Are there one or two buildings?
  • Does the project meet the Downtown Design Standards
  • Special setback requirement.


1.            One building or two?  Fields said underground parking is positive.  The scale of the building isn’t because it is connected to the parking.  There is no visual impact.  It is not an issue to him.  Douma said with regard to the size of the building he couldn’t find anything in the ordinance that relates to whether there is parking underground or not.  With regard to connectivity of the building, he could not find any reference in the ordinance to whether there is parking at all.  Therefore, the relationship between parking and the buildings is not relevant to whether a building is one building or two.   Dotterrer concurred.  Morris remembered in the Big Box ordinance, parking underground is counted as part of the area.  Stromberg said the City Attorney states the Commission can make the interpretation if this is one or two buildings.  Planning Staff believes it is two buildings and they are concerned that if we follow the logic that the parking structure makes the two buildings one, that will serve to discourage other developers from building underground parking.  Dotterrer said the City Attorney is giving us options and Staff is giving their opinion. Consensus was reached that there are two buildings. 


2.            Setback.  Dawkins said the 1964 Downtown Plan was very clear about keeping the possibility open to convert Lithia Way to two-way traffic, alleviating traffic off of Main Street downtown.  Even though we have two buildings on First Street, maybe the intent of the 20 foot setback was to keep the Lithia Way option open.  If we grant this application, we will never be able to alleviate the traffic off of Main Street.  Even though the Asst. City Attorney has told them it was legal for the applicants to move the front of the buildings to First Street, Dawkins believes this is open for interpretation by the Commission.  Logic says Lithia Way is an arterial street.


Douma looked at the wording in the ordinance under Land Surveys that states:  “Also, front yards for properties abutting all arterial streets shall be no less than 20 feet with the exception of C-1-D.”  One of the properties is abutting an arterial street with the realignment, calling into question the design that doesn’t have a setback on First Street.  He doesn’t think the intent is to force the setback onto First Street, but to deal with setbacks on the arterial street. 


Fields asked if a boundary line adjustment and can be done without a planning action.  Can the applicants change the property lines and then come before the Commission?  Reeder said a boundary line adjustment is a ministerial act.  It is not a land use action. 


Stromberg said the plain language says that if a lot abuts an arterial, then that lot has to have a 20 foot front yard.  By the rearrangement of their parcels, the applicants have created two lots and one lot has a side yard on Lithia Way so it abuts an arterial and it has a front yard on First Street.  If you apply the plain language, then you require them to have 20 foot front yard on First Street.  If the Commission approves this, they would put the applicant in violation of the applicable criteria.  We can’t explain why we are doing it because it doesn’t achieve anything.  Stromberg said it seems the setback on First Street doesn’t have anything to do with the intent expressed in the ordinance except to protect the arterial.  The Commissions’ interpretation doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t serve the purpose of the ordinance.  If the Commission interprets rather than using plain language, then the Commission has to decide on the intent or purpose of this ordinance applied to side yards since the ordinance does not address side yards.  If the side yard abuts the arterial, then it is the side yard that has to be 20 feet.


Morris said he thought in the ’66 Plan, the property was in C-1-D., but jut not adopted in the Comprehensive Plan.  In the C-1 zone there is no front yard.  When you look at the arterial, the other side of the street doesn’t have 20 foot setback.  If you were trying to protect the arterial, you’d think it would be done on both sides, not just one. 


Dawkins disagreed that both sides of Lithia Way have to be protected.  Downtown is one thing and the other side of the road is another. 


Fields asked what we do with 30 years of building to the sidewalk.  They have been trying to get the whole historic core of downtown building to the sidewalk.  If the applicant comes back with a plan with a 20 foot setback, then what?  He thinks if we are going to interpret a 20 foot plan, the City might as well condemn the property and be done with it.


Dotterrer is looking at the intent of the setback issue.  What did we want to do with that arterial street? 


Fields took a straw poll to see who would be willing to let go of the setback issue.  Black, Stromberg, Douma, Dawkins were not willing to let go of the setback issue.  This item was tabled.


3.            Variance for Building Separation.  Douma favors allowing the Administrative Variance.  He presumes the intent of the ordinance was to make things look and function better and what the applicants have presented looks better than the letter of the law could make it look.  Fields agreed. 


Black does not think that it was intended for this size building to be built downtown.


Dawkins said the setback between the two buildings is the only specific criteria that are black and white.  It’s hard to talk about the building separation without talking about mass and scale.  If you are looking at the buildings from a distance, the whole building is Plaza size and three stories high because there is very little setback from the top two floors. 


Molnar read the four approval criteria for the Administrative Variance that all need to be met.  Stromberg doesn’t see anything that is unique about the proposal that requires a special variance.  The ordinance says specifically that two buildings have to be separated by the height of the buildings unless there criteria can be addressed for an Administrative Variance.  Stromberg has heard none yet.


Dotterrer said the applicants have referred to the Downtown Designs Standards that don’t require buildings to be close together. 


Reeder said there is a memo from him explaining that the Administrative Variance does apply.  The Design Standards are not in conflict with one another.  He did not go into each element of the criteria.  The applicant gives further explanation in their recent submittal (page 3). 


Chapman believes they have exceeded the requirement by having the 75 foot opening on Lithia Way.  He is willing to give them that sort of architectural license to make the project better.


Stromberg follows Chapman’s logic, but if we have the ordinances and we don’t follow them, what are we communicating to the community? 


Black and Stromberg wondered because the front of the lot is on First Street and the two buildings are required to be separated, what does that mean with respect to the front lot of the property?  By changing the front to First Street, should they now be separating the buildings so you can see through from First Street rather than Lithia Way? 


Fields said we’re talking about the legal description of the lot.  A building can have frontages on two streets.  Molnar said the Site Design Standards deal with a building’s relationship to a street, regardless of whether it is a side street.


Molnar said the applicants are saying through an averaging, they feel the configured space is better.  Some of the difficulty is it is a standard that probably wasn’t anticipated in the downtown.  This property is unique in that there probably are no other properties in the downtown area where two buildings could be constructed over 10,000 square feet or in excess of 100 feet in length.    


Fields took a straw poll to see who could accept the applicant’s distance between buildings.  Five commissioners were willing to support accepting the Administrative Variance.  They decided to table this issue.


4.                Traffic.  Stromberg said the numbers in the traffic analyses don’t grasp the problem.  If more than a couple of cars are trying to leave, they won’t be going by way of First Street.  By going through the parking lot and entering Pioneer, it could create a gridlock almost immediately.  He can’t see any criteria that address this issue. 


Molnar said the Traffic Safety Commission looked at making First Street two-way and at this time they wanted to wait to see the project’s trip generation and make a determination at that point.  There are some problems with the Post Office adding to the congestion. 


Douma believes the biggest traffic concern brought up by the neighbors is the impact on B Street.  Black added the alley is of concern too.  After doing the calculations, Douma said 18 cars entering both First and Pioneer would only increase traffic by three percent during peak hours.  That does not seem very significant.


Molnar said the applicable standard is (D) under Site Review – “adequate capacity for water, sewer, paved access to and through the development, electricity, urban storm drainage, and adequate transportation can and will be provided to and through the subject property.”  Adequate capacity has been based on a study looking at a breakdown at intersections.  The Commission could recommend a Condition that Traffic Safety revisit First Street at a later date. 


Fields took a straw poll and everyone agreed the applicants have addressed the traffic issue.


5.            Commercial vs. Residential.  What is the actual requirement for meeting this standard?  Dotterrer asked if Staff is comfortable with the plan showing 50 percent commercial.  Molnar said this is a mixed use project so the applicants are showing some double duty of areas such as parking.  The driveway aisle serving the commercial space is connected to the City parking lot.  Cars might drive through this aisle so there is an overlap of uses.  Will there be an occasion as a resident of a townhouse to use the surface parking when they want to drop something off?  There may be some overlap with commercial too.


Fields thought everyone had some concerns about scale and mass.  The primary use of the downtown is for commercial use.  This project is 83 percent residential.  They are only required to have a maximum of two parking spaces for the largest units.  If 50 percent of the area has a commercial use, the parking required for it would reduce the scale of the building.  The critical piece is what we are calling commercial.  Fifty percent commercial totally changes the whole view of the commercial relationship to residential.  The residential is so powerful in determining what the project will look like.  However, it isn’t our duty to recalculate what is commercial and what isn’t.  The core down the middle of the project is like a street.  Fields believes this should be taken out of the calculation.


Reeder noted that in an earlier memo that the ordinance says that “50 percent of permitted or Special Permitted Uses, excluding residential.”  If the Commission is concerned about residential uses and their accessory uses overwhelming a project, then you wouldn’t even have to look at the residential accessory uses because they are not permitted of Special Permitted


Stromberg believes, following the definition for accessory use,  “…and which is located on the same lot with the main use,” that the applicants rearranged their lots and parcels so there are two parcels.  The dividing line between the two lots runs through the parking lot.  The accessory uses on the back lot don’t meet the definition of an accessory use to the main uses that are on the front lot.  They can’t be counted.


Molnar said a portion of the accessory use area is no longer located on the lot that accommodates the main use. 


Fields would rather see two stories of commercial and only one residential.  Is this good for the downtown to put in lots of residences?  We have to have a car to go anyplace.  There aren’t alternative methods of transportation.  He’s concerned that 80 percent of the plaza area is going to be used by residential.  Stromberg said when they add everything up, the applicants are 3000 more than the 50 percent.   If you take out accessory units that don’t qualify because they don’t meet the definition of accessory to the main building, that’s about 3000 square feet because of the way they moved the lot line.


Fields is looking for a way to instruct the applicant and let them know what we want.  They will have to reconfigure the 50 percent.  Molnar said there hasn’t been a development with multiple buildings before where then you look at 50 percent of the total lot area that shall be permitted or Special Permitted Use. 


It was agreed the applicants do not meet the 50 percent and secondly, the whole central area looks like it has the potential for a very mixed use.  If there was 80 percent commercial and 20 percent residential, that number would bring them right to the edge of meeting the criteria.


Reeder said they need to interpret if they want to include accessory uses.  There is nothing that addresses it in the code.  He said the accessory uses for residential are not counted as part of residential.  Stromberg quoted from the ordinance, “At least 50 percent of the total lot area if there are multiple buildings shall be designated for permitted or special permitted uses other than residential.”  You add up the non-residential uses, including their accessory uses and you see if that number is greater than 50 percent of the total lot area.  That is the criteria.  This is an attempt to control the amount of residential compared to commercial. 


If the project is split into two lots, nothing works.  It is not a mixed use.  There is no commercial use in the second lot.  Is it considered one or two lots?


Stromberg said the applicants are treating the development as one lot. 


Reeder said at least 65 percent of the total gross floor area of the ground floor or at least 50 percent of the total lot area. 


Molnar believes it is up the Commission whether they apply the 50 percent rule or if you want to apply the 65 percent of the total gross floor area of the first floor.


Chapman felt the writers of the ordinance wanted the 50 percent to apply to multiple buildings.  Everyone agreed.  They agreed that Lot 2 (upper lot) meets the 50 percent rule, but Lot 1 does not. 


6.            Scale, mass and open space.  Douma noted the Historic Commission has been involved in this action.  Even though he may not like the scale, mass and architecture, he will have to accept the building design as presented.  Dotterrer agreed. 


 Morris recalled a time when Ashland was heading toward using Elizabethan architecture and he is concerned we are trying to use traditional architecture with all buildings so they begin to look the same.  He does not have a problem with the architectural style of this building. 


Black can’t reconcile the Building 1 not having a more significant vertical pattern. The new front is now on First Street and she doesn’t know what the entrance will look like on First Street.  The windows do not have the vertical look recommended in the Site Design Standards.  She thinks the applicants did a hurried job of showing the computer model of how the buildings are going to look.  A 126 foot long building is overwhelming.


Stromberg feels from hearing the public speak that the building and the drawings he has looked at, the bulk has been minimized.  He does not believe the applicants have made the case that this is a human scale project.  There is a section in Chapter 18.72.100 Power to Amend Plans; if the Commission decided to approve this action, approval conditions could be added.  One condition is to limit the height from 35 or 36 feet.  Pull the building back up to 20 feet.  To handle the bulk of the building, it is taller than it needs to be. 


Black said if you stand in front of the four-story Elks building, there is a rhythm of verticalness. 


Fields noted that they have 47 percent glazing on the windows and are required to have 50 percent.  What makes a good window is the wall around it.  He does not like the corner tower.  He sees a line of 40 feet.  It feels like he just doesn’t see any play in the balance of the building.  Are we saying push the building back 20 feet?  He doesn’t think we want the building 20 feet back from the street.  He thinks the 83 percent residential has a lot to do with the volume of the building and the parking.  It’s unfair to the developer that it is not clear what is allowed. 


Dawkins said the building is humungous.  Did the 83 people who signed the petition see the drawings and the scale?  Most people who are testifying are shocked at the size. 


Dotterrer does not believe the idea of the downtown is to set buildings back 20 feet.


Black does not have enough information to make a decision on whether Lithia Way should be wider or not. 


Morris said the Downtown Design Standards say to build to the street, to the lot line.


Morris, Fields, Dotterrer and Chapman said they would like to see a minimum setback on Lithia Way.


Dawkins/ Black m/s to deny PA2005-00084. 


Chapman said the only basis for him to vote for denial is because the back lot does not meet the 50 percent criteria.  If bulk and scale had been a problem, the Historic Commission would have red-flagged it.  And, Kramer would have walked away from the project as well.  Chapman said he can make the leap regarding the separation between buildings. 


Stromberg will deny the application because the setback has to be either on Lithia Way or First Street.  The residential dominating the target use fails.  He is willing to let go of the Administrative Variance.  The bulk and scale creates a problem along Lithia Way and for the adjoining neighborhoods.  He doesn’t have enough tools to decide on the traffic issue.


Roll Call:  Douma, Chapman, Stromberg, Dawkins, Dotterrer, Black, Fields and Morris voted yes.  The action was denied.


Reeder asked for direction for findings for denial.  He understood there was a reason to deny the application based on the fact by virtue of the lot line adjustment, there was not 50 percent commercial on Lot 2.



Molnar asked the Commissioners if anyone is interested in being interviewed by the land use consultant.  Those responding were Fields, KenCairn, Stromberg and Douma.


ADJOURNMENT – The meeting was adjourned at 10:20 p.m.


Respectfully submitted by

Susan Yates, Executive Secretary


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