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Planning Commission Regular Meeting Minutes

Tuesday, December 12, 2006




DECEMBER 12, 2006



CALL TO ORDER – Chair John Fields called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. at the Ashland Civic Center, 1175 E. Main Street, Ashland, OR.


Commissioners Present:   


Council Liaison:

John Fields, Chair

Michael Dawkins

Olena Black


Kate Jackson (Council Liaison, does not attend Planning Commission meetings in order to avoid conflict of interest.)

John Stromberg

Pam Marsh


Staff Present:

Bill Molnar, Interim Planning Director

Melanie Mindlin


Maria Harris, Senior Planner

Mike Morris


Richard Appicello, Assistant City Attorney

Tom Dimitre


Sue Yates, Executive Secretary

Dave Dotterrer



Absent Members:  None





Molnar said Bob Parker. ECONorthwest, will present his preliminary draft of the Economic Opportunities Analysis at a joint study session of the Council and Planning Commission on January 23, 2007 at 7:00 p.m. 


Fields announced that PA2006-01371, 1955 Ashland Street, has been postponed until February.  He asked if anyone had come to participate that they could leave with Staff any written materials for the record.



Dotterrer/Dawkins m/s to approve the minutes of the November 14, 2006 Planning Commission meeting.  Voice Vote:  Approved.


Morris/Black m/s to approve the minutes of the October 24, 2006 Study Session.  Voice Vote:  Approved.


PUBLIC FORUM – No one came forth to speak.







Fields explained that at the last meeting, the public hearing had been closed.  There was a request to leave the record open for seven days to allow for a response from an opponent to submit any new evidence.  The applicant then had time to respond.  At tonight’s meeting, Fields asked the Commissioners for those in favor or re-opening the public hearing to invite the public to speak to anything that was introduced into tonight’s record.  A copy can be provided if requested.  Voice Vote:  Approved unanimously.  No one came forth to speak.


Fields asked for ex parte contacts or site visits.  Morris, Fields, Stromberg and Marsh had another site visit.  Dawkins went by the site several times.  Mindlin, Dimitre, Black and Dotterrer had no additional site visits. 


Fields asked for all those in favor of closing the public hearing.  Voice Vote:  Approved unanimously. 


Staff Response – Molnar said there were two items of concern from the last meeting:  (1)  The finished floor level that the applicant remedied to the Commission’s satisfaction, and (2) the planting space between the building and the sidewalk.  The record indicates that at the Historic Commission meeting, they had suggested one additional option.  The last segment of sidewalk would be curbside, creating a nine and one-half foot landscape buffer between the sidewalk and the face of the building.  The applicant has indicated either option is acceptable to them.  They are concerned about maintaining the existing six foot planting strip, reducing the sidewalk to five feet and increasing the planting strip beyond the three feet, creating changes to the architecture of the building, specifically to symmetry of the entrance. 


Marsh asked for Staff’s comments concerning the third floor setback issue.  Molnar said it would probably create a minor change but is not sure it would be visually noticed.  The general standards for large scale development talk about breaking up the building into different forms and sizes relative to human scale.  The primary issue is that there is a step back as that is the intent of the ordinance.


Dotterrer asked about the proposed meandering sidewalk.  Molnar said there probably isn’t much difference in the two sections of landscaping so the Commission should decide what’s best for a pedestrian using the sidewalk.  Staff doesn’t believe there is much difference in the two proposed scenarios. 


Marsh believes the more important issue is the building setback.  She really thinks the building needs to be set back an additional three feet.  This is a large project with very small historic homes across the street.  No one wants or expects the historic houses to be redeveloped as large developments.  It’s appropriate to look at what’s on the ground rather than what might be on the ground under theoretical zoning.  This block really stands on its own.  If one looks down Helman from North Main Street, the proposed development relates to that block rather than relating to the commercial building across the street on VanNess.  To minimize the bulk in the neighborhood, they need to move the building back three feet and add additional landscaping.  She believes the meandering sidewalk would lose the historical sidewalk pattern that is so dominant in that neighborhood and so characteristic of the historic neighborhoods, and the street trees would be lost with the bulk of the building still sitting exactly where it is. 


Black disagreed.  If the writers of the Comprehensive Plan had wanted this to remain low impact, small historic, they would have done so.  The Commission does not have any guidance for interface.  She doesn’t feel like the bulk against the sidewalk is out of character with the neighborhood.  The commercial emphasis on VanNess is the kind of transition that is inevitable.  She is concerned about the angled elevation of the sidewalk.


Dimitre is concerned with bulk and scale and would like to see the parkrow, a five foot sidewalk and the building moved back an additional three feet.  The small homes across the street create a kind of transition zone.  He does not like the meandering sidewalk.  He would like six feet between the sidewalk and the building.


Morris likes the sidewalk next to the curb.  He can’t understand the landscaping that will be planted in front of the windows.  The east side of the street is all E-1 up to Central.  The building addresses VanNess more than Helman.   It is not necessary to meander the sidewalk.  He can live with the proposal as it is.


Mindlin is not that concerned with the sidewalk.  She agreed with Morris that the landscaping will be coming so close to the level of the windows and will become a major detriment to having a large planting area in that spot.  She suspects the Tree Commission was thinking about larger landscaping issues and when they recommended approval probably didn’t realize the building would be sunken bringing the windows close to the ground with large plantings in front of the windows.  Mindlin is disappointed about the plaza being so high up in the air.  As a separation between buildings, she feels the sense of spaciousness is going to be lost because of the large masonry wall between the sidewalk and the plaza.  There won’t be a sense of the plaza being at street level.  She would like more landscaping by the plaza.


Dotterrer liked the idea of having the sidewalk stay where it is. 


Fields said he doesn’t see this development as a gateway to anything.  The property goes down to a residential floodplain area that is never going to be developed.  Do we want to define this area to be a monument for urbanization or should it be softened, respecting the more residential pattern in a low rise industrial kind of building – single story, simple?  Is it a fair judgment to ask the applicant to push the building back?  We know that two couples walking on a six foot sidewalk can barely pass each other.  Is this the density we are looking at in the future (two foot parkrow, eight foot sidewalk, and a landscape buffer)?  Without explicitly telling the applicant how to develop, we are asking the applicant to give us their best shot and tell us how they comply with the ordinance.  There is no obligation to the planning action to build a sustainable building.  It’s an act of faith that we trust that is the applicant’s intention.  The building is attractive.  We are cramming a lot on a parcel.


Dawkins said the west side is the historic side and the east side from North Main down is starting to become commercial.  All of the homes built 100 years ago were looking at an old packing plant. This is a funny little district where there is a mix of historic and heavy duty commercial industrial.  He would like to see much more of a streetscape coming all the way down Helman.  He is not as concerned with the bulk and scale.  He doesn’t know how pushing back the building will change things that much. 


Stromberg said this proposed building is in the Historic District and by our regulations, we have to adhere to the Historic District Design Standards, not the Comprehensive Plan.  He sees three things:  (1)  Height –The height should be more congruent with what is in the neighborhood (see page 42 of Site Design and Use Standards).  (2)  Scale – The drawings in the Site Design Standards show all the existing buildings crammed together, yet Helman Street has buildings spaced out all along.  This development is just one long building with nice break-ups in the detail but its compression is much more intense. (3)  Line of Facade – The proposed building departs from that.  With all of these things combined, the building will be pretty high and everything will be compressed and denser and closer to the sidewalk than the façade line all the way down the street, thus moving away from the intention integrating new development into the Historic District.  He is having difficulty with the applicant meeting the burden of proof based on the above three items.  The Historic Commission’s recommendation is not giving a rationale. 


Harris said the Historic Commission started looking at this project at least a year ago at a pre-application level and saw it a total of at least six times.  They started out seeing something so different and it has evolved into something very different based on the Historic Commission recommendations to the applicant and subsequent adjustments made by the applicant. 


Appicello said there were letters submitted referring to green development and letters of general support attached to the applicant’s materials that are not relevant to the approval criteria.   


The Commissioners discussed the issues further. 


Dimitre/Marsh adding a Condition that would meet the Historic Design Standards, m/s that there be a six and one-half foot parkrow, a five foot sidewalk, and a six foot planter between the sidewalk and the building, including the corner building (side on Helman) to the ramp.  Roll Call:  The motion carried with Marsh, Stromberg, Dawkins, Mindlin, Dimitre and Fields voting “yes” and Dotterrer, Black and Morris voting “no.”


Dotterrer/Stromberg m/s to approve PA2006-00612, incorporating the Condition above that was just approved.  There was discussion to maintain the current setbacks.  Morris argued it won’t be an easy fix for the applicants to redesign the building.  Dotterrer summed it up that generally speaking, the Commission likes the design of the building but approximately a two-thirds majority of the Commission believes the building should be set back an additional three feet.  Harris said Condition 14 should cover any changes to the building.  Roll Call:  The motion carried with Stromberg, Fields, Mindlin, Dimitre, Dotterrer, Dawkins and Marsh voting “yes” and Black and Morris voting “no.” 



Appicello introduced revised Land Use Procedures and Citizens Guide for Land Use Procedures and Speaker Request forms to help the meetings run more smoothly.  He will e-mail the draft to the Commissioners. 


Dotterrer will try to bring back the revised Roles and Duties for the January study session.


ADJOURNMENT – The meeting was adjourned at 8:40 p.m.


Respectfully submitted by,

Susan Yates, Executive Secretary




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