Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Planning Commission Study Session

Tuesday, September 25, 2007





SEPTEMBER 25, 2007


CALL TO ORDER – Chair John Stromberg called the meeting to order at 7:05 p.m. at the Ashland Civic Center, 1175 E. Main Street, Ashland, OR.

Commissioners Present:        


Council Liaison:

John Stromberg, Chair

Michael Dawkins

Tom Dimitre


Cate Hartzell , Council Liaison, absent

John Fields


Staff Present:

Pam Marsh

Melanie Mindlin

Mike Morris


Bill Molnar, Planning Manager

Maria Harris, Senior Planner

Sue Yates, Executive Secretary

Absent Members: (excused)



Dave Dotterrer

Olena Black

















Marsh updated the Commission on the Street Fund Task Force, stating they have completed their work.  Their mission had been to look at the street fund, both the maintenance projects and capital projects looking at projected expenditures and income.  There is a significant gap.  The street fund is substantial enough to pay for the maintenance projects over the next ten years with very little available to go toward the capital expenditures.  They are making some recommendations to the Council regarding funding sources.  They re-named themselves the Transportation Funding Task Force, and concluded that transportation planning truly fits into all the urban planning that we do on a daily basis and they are integrated and cannot be separated.  They will pose the question to the Council as to who should do transportation planning within the City of Ashland.  The only transportation planning being done on a strategic level is in the Capital Improvement Plan. It is important the Planning Commission is in the loop for the CIP projects as they are look at planning projects so they will know what’s in the pipeline.  The report will go to the Council on October 1st.


HEARINGS BOARD SUBSTITUTION – Fields offered to substitute for Mindlin at the October Hearings Board. 



Presentation by Bill Molnar, Planning Manager and Maria Harris, Senior Planner

Stromberg explained we are working through this process in a sequence of meetings (this is the second meeting) because there have been ongoing problems and confusion dealing with the front yard setbacks along arterial streets.  He understood Staff would bring a structure to the Commission for analyzing and working on the problem.  Tonight, they have brought specific recommendations and therein lies an ongoing issue.  Commissioner Dotterrer brought this up with regard to the Riparian Ordinance, asking that instead of bringing recommendations, he would rather be given multiple options and let the Planning Commission get more involved in the problem-solving stage and when the Commission chooses a basic direction, then the Commission would like Staff to implement that and translate it into ordinance language.  For Stromberg, if we are trying to work on this in an open and creative way, having a very specific recommendation brought to the Commission tends to put them in a reactive position.  Also, sometimes it is difficult to understand the underlying assumptions. 


Molnar said a lot of the work Staff has done in approaching the arterial setback issue relates to the underlying assumptions.  Staff proposed specific options if the Commission feels that approach is worthwhile.  If there are other objectives, they are open to hearing those as well.



Molnar said this is a continuation of where they left off a couple of months ago in reviewing the arterial front yard setback.  Staff started with an arterial corridor assessment, evaluating each corridor.  The corridors are:  North Main, East Main, Lithia Way, Siskiyou Boulevard and Ashland Street.  They looked at patterns along each corridor that were generally pleasing to people and the detractors from each corridor.  They then tried to identify the objectives of the overall evaluation and what the whole process should achieve.  Lastly, they tried to identify an approach to meeting the objectives. 


The two objectives they identified were:

1.                   To insure, through preserving or reserving space that these transportation corridors provide a superior transportation corridor based on the concept in the Comprehensive Plan of modal equity. 

2.                   Insure that development or redevelopment occurring along the corridors is considerate toward these preferred patterns that establish the character upon which they all agree.  Make sure we don’t have standards that will be detrimental to the established patterns.


In order to meet the above objectives, they looked at the following approaches:

1.            A street improvements setback that preserves the space back from the curb to insure that if one of the elements from the Transportation System is missing, that the area will be preserved to accommodate it upon redevelopment.

2.            Establish a front yard requirement that protects the agreed upon character that is of importance along each corridor.


Harris gave a PowerPoint presentation (included in the record).



1.             Look at a maximum setback. (Fields)

2.             Break North Main into two parts with Manzanita (approximately) as the dividing line so nothing would be taken away from the historic portion of North Main. (Dawkins)

3.             Develop way(s) to deal with exceptions and still reserve discretion. (Fields)       



COLIN SWALES, 461 Allison Street, said pullouts for transit stops along Lithia Way or North Main were not mentioned. 


With regard to the Downtown Plan Phase II, there were 100 downtown merchants involved in the study area.  Only two showed up for the charrette.  He believes we need more input from the downtown merchants and other commercial property owners.  Additionally, the couplet was never discussed in the Downtown Plan Phase II.  The couplet was put in to relieve the traffic congestion and then I-5 was built and took a lot of the through traffic away from downtown.  Are there more creative options for moving our traffic around the downtown?  We need to also look at traffic patterns in downtown.  Several citizens noted a lack of greenery in the downtown.  The Site Design Standards handbook requires a ten percent landscaping in the downtown, but it is not in our 18.72 Site Design Standards. We need to look at opportunities for creating public plazas and space on the street.


Swales likes the idea of a median along North Main Street.  It would provide traffic calming and turning opportunities.  A median would provide a crosswalk as well as turning possibilities. 


With regard to Measure 37 (property rights initiative), before we give away this arterial setback, we would seriously want to consider if we need to give away those rights.  There are Measure 37 property owners on one side trying to roll back prior to the ordinances. 


He is speaking as an individual, but he serves as a member of the Traffic Safety Commission and a Liaison to Bike and Pedestrian Commission.  Providing a safe pedestrian and bike environment is high on their list of goals for the coming year for these commissions.


MARK KNOX, 276 W. Nevada, agreed with everything Staff said.  He would like, however, to hear a discussion about going from a five lane non-multi-modal environment along North Main down to a three lane (two lanes with a middle turn lane) with 9,000 vehicle trips.  It’s a short length from our town to the downtown.  ODOT has widened North Main in the last ten years.  He would like to see a radical approach considered.


GEORGE KRAMER, 326 North Laurel, said he is glad to see they are looking at different standards for residential versus commercial.  To the extent that North Main through town works and the zero setback works in Historic areas for historic commercial buildings, he is wondering about the logic of requiring an additional ten foot setback for new commercial buildings.  If we are making Ashland Street more a commercial strip, what does the ten foot setback accomplish? 


With the 19 foot sidewalk on North Main, not only would trees and houses be lost, but the retaining walls below the four “Queens” that were built by the City when they widened North Main at the turn of the century would be lost. Reality is messy.  There is a certain interest in the differences.  Over time, the jogs, differences, changes in setbacks one experiences, provide visual interest.  He wants the Commission to be careful about how rigid the standards are. 


Stromberg asked what Kramer would propose as an alternative.  Kramer suggested they might want to have a range of widths to allow flexibility, and to develop a range of treatments.  There is a functional aspect of what they are trying to solve, but this is the City’s opportunity to set a tone in its part of the public space that is reflected positively.  There’s value in variety.  Whatever happens on Ashland Street, we need to think about doing interesting, creative things. 


RUSS DALE, 230 Wilson Road, said much of the emphasis has been placed on discussing the setback from the curb and talking too much about what the width of the street should be.  He doesn’t want to miss the gravel shoulder on Siskiyou Boulevard.  Maybe the street doesn’t have to be as wide and instead provide with us with more pedestrian and bike amenities.  Let’s not look at just the setback, but look at how wide the street is.


EVAN ARCHERD, 550 E. Main Street, thanked Staff for tonight’s presentation and for the presentation at the Presbyterian Church.  The speakers the other night talked quite a bit about connecting various commercial nodes and referred to them as “strings of pearls.”  It occurred to Archerd that there are a couple of redevelopment sites along Ashland Street, particularly Mihama’s and 7-11, the mobile home park that was removed, and Lumpy’s.  There are individual commercial sites connected by various kinds of residential sites in between.  It might be a mistake to require a ten foot setback everywhere along Ashland Street.  Not in every instance is a ten foot setback is required, particularly on the properties across from the college where there a lot of pedestrian traffic. 


When considering the setback on Lithia Way, it is important to give it a historical context.  The 1988 and 2001 Downtown Plan, most of the transportation plans, and the Downtown Historic Plan have always called for a zero setback.  It is a good idea to create a little wider sidewalk in that area.  He thinks it is important to have parking downtown and believes it would be a mistake to re-zone the north side of Lithia Way.



Dimitre said this analysis started out as a front yard setback analysis.  He said Kramer referred to a presentation slide that was an example of a ten foot setback for a non-historic commercial building.  Harris said the ten foot setback for non-historic commercial development is a Site Design and Use requirement.  The arterial front yard setback is from the front property line 20 feet in.  Staff is suggesting the Commission repeal that because Staff believes the intent of the original ordinance was to look at preserving space for street improvements.  They have looked at all the streets, identified what is missing and Staff is saying mostly what is missing is up to standard sidewalk pieces.  The measurement should be from the back of the curb towards the property – the new build-to line.  Molnar added if you repeal the 20 foot setback, it leaves you with the existing standards in the Site Review Standards.  In a commercial historic district, there is really no setback other than that for building design and offsets.  Outside the Historic District, there is still a ten foot requirement.


Stromberg read 18.68.050. If he reads it correctly, this would not apply to the eventual widening of Lithia Way.  Molnar said that over the last ten to 15 years there has been a review of setbacks and the Downtown Design Standard process as well as the development of our Detailed Site Review Standards which also exempt the Historic District from the ten foot.  That is another document that in the 90’s brings the buildings up to the sidewalk.  There was an elaborate process with citizens talking about building setbacks.  He does not think everyone would have spent that much time if all of sudden they realized the standards didn’t apply because there was setback hidden in 1868.  It would have been a waste of time to create the design standards because 18.68 would override them. 


Harris said what Stromberg is getting at is, are people on board with the current urban design approach or not?  The language from 18.68.050 was from 1964 and she believes they are outdated urban design principles that wider is better.  You can balance good urban design and still have light and air and landscaping and make it all work.  The Site Design and Use standards are not new.  They have been around since the 1980’s and 90’s.  They have talked about bringing buildings up to the street and having this kind of orientation. 


Dimitre would like to know the differences between what we have now and what is being proposed.  He needs more specific information.


Fields said what we are looking at is 13 to 15 feet of sidewalks and for a new building ten feet (23 to 25 feet from face of curb).  What seems to be missing is establishing either from centerline of right-of-way to the back side of the curb.  He believes we have to identify all the corridor widths.  We need to link all the changes to the Transportation Plan.  Harris said Fields is talking about survey level information.  Generally, we don’t have right-of-way widths and curb-to-curb widths readily available.  Fields said, in order to plan, we have to identify where we are going with the street widths and the rights-of-way we need.  Harris said they are assuming the curb line isn’t going to change on all the streets except North Main, based on our long-range Transportation Plan and model and the Transportation System Plan.


Molnar said more than likely the curbline will be the constant.  On North Main it is most difficult because there is fluctuation. Harris thought it might be better to tackle the four corridors and potentially leave North Main until later.  Maybe North Main needs a full blown corridor study.


Siskiyou Boulevard has had two or three iterations.  It’s just a matter of figuring out what you need on a street and then get it all to fit into the space that is there now. 


Marsh said she started tonight by reporting about the Street Financing Task Force and how we clearly recognize that transportation planning needs to be integrated with Planning and this is an obvious example of that when we’ve been talking about designing streets and the kind of streets that we need to carry traffic and the kind of development we want to be on those streets.  It is her long-term hope that we look at ourselves as a planning and transportation commission.


Marsh continued that it looks like we are looking at two levels of decisions.  The first set of decisions is:  What kinds of street frontage improvements do we want in these areas?  How wide should the sidewalk be?  Should there be a parkrow?  How wide should the parkrow be?  The second set of decisions would be:  How close should the buildings be to whatever street frontage improvements we make?  She suggested we narrow down our focus to start with one of the arterial sections.  She would like to start with Lithia Way because it is of great interest to a lot of people and most likely to be re-developed in the near-term future.  Let’s practice the planning process on Lithia Way.  Let’s see what kinds of information we need and how it all plays out in looking at setbacks and street improvements and then see if we can move onto the other pieces.  She would also be ready to work on the whole package. 


Molnar wondered if Marsh had in mind to go out and lay some things on the ground to see how close improvements would be.  Marsh thought it would be good to have a cross section of Lithia Way to show the Commissioners where the property lines are and some of the information that is being questioned.  It seems like a relatively easy area to get the kind of information Dimitre is looking for in terms of what would be allowed under current circumstances. 


Stromberg believes Marsh’s suggestion is an interesting one, however, Lithia Way is not the one he would choose because:  1)  it is politically charged,  and 2) it’s the whole question of doing the Downtown Plan and it’s right smack in the middle of that.  He would support picking one of the others, such as North Main. 


Fields understands what we are talking about is rescinding 18.68.050 and looking at a modification.  Harris said it deviates from the street standards that are on the books because we are saying to use a residential standard on Ashland Street and North Main just continuously.  Fields said we have this very simple, clear clarification that doesn’t reduce the 20 foot by much.  He believes Staff is giving the Commissioners a suggestion on how to clean up the arterial setback issue.  The question is:  Do we agree with Staff or not and does this general proposal move in the direction we want it to go? 


Harris went back to her original presentation that one of the assumptions is that we don’t have the resources available to do a corridor study.  It’s one thing to do illustrations to better explain how things would change, but when you start going out to Lithia Way and looking at where property lines are in relation to the current street improvements, that is getting into a corridor study.  Minimum cost of a corridor study is $60,000 and you’d be looking at a one to two year process for five different streets.  The decision point the Planning Commission has to make is:  Do you want to something that makes the Site Design and Use Standards more consistent with what’s on the books in the commercial areas and do you want to do a relatively quick fix that keep hearings from getting confused and contracted and long in the future or do you not want to do a quick fix?  We can bring more information to illustrate the changes better, but beyond that, you’re looking at something more involved.


Further discussion ensued regarding if one of the streets presented tonight should be chosen to study, what street to choose and when it should be chosen.  There was a general understanding that there are not resources at this time to do a corridor study.  The discussion concluded with the Commission voting informally (Marsh, Dawkins, Dimitre, Mindlin and Stromberg favored) to move forward with Staff working on gathering more information on just Lithia Way and bringing it back to the Commission.   


Molnar said they would look at how it would work out on Lithia Way if they use a minimum setback of 15 feet from the back of curb for a commercial standard pedestrian corridor with five foot tree wells and a ten foot sidewalk.  He said they can take one or two sections and identify what street frontage improvements would occur under this scenario and how the improvements on the private property would relate to those street frontages.  They will continue to keep in contact with Public Works concerning measuring from the curb. 




Stromberg handed out a list of revised goals.  He thought the Commission could take another look at the goals, set up a meeting with the Council to talk about the goals with the idea they could hear our goals before the budget process begins for next year.  However, in the meantime, David Stalheim resigned and that left a question – what is going to happen?


Stromberg suggested we deal with our highest priority items and get them cleaned up this fall so we can be ready to move ahead with whatever is going to happen with visioning and the Comprehensive Plan.  Stromberg would like to review the Planning Commission goals every four months.  Whatever decisions we make about our goals, we have to make sure that we have the ability to do our part of the work and that it’s within the capacity of Staff to get that work done.  After our discussion tonight, Stromberg will work with Molnar to see how it will fit into our workplan.  He will bring that to the next meeting on October 4th.


Stromberg reviewed his list of “Planning Commission Goals Revised 9/25/07 – Proposed

1.            Visioning - started in early 2008.  Good lead-in for doing the Comp Plan.

2             Ordinance Review

(Siegel) Try to harvest things from the work we have done rather than expanding the ordinance review.  Pass it as soon as possible and move to the Council.   Proposing Morris, Fields, Stromberg and Molnar meet and decide what should go through.

Procedural Changes – Set aside and wait until new dept. head is in place or wait until interim person is in place.

(Marsh believes we shouldn’t wait too long because if we end up short-staffed, some of the procedural changes could be assets)

Policy issues – Put on our pending list.

1.                   Riparian Ordinance/Wetlands Inventory – Have to stay with this and get it done.

2.                   Economic Opportunities Analysis – Molnar will bring it to a meeting soon.

3.                   Croman Plan – The state has hired consultants to do this.  This needs to be on an agenda soon.

4.                   Arterial Setback – Next step decided at tonight’s meeting.

7.            Planning Commission Roles & Responsibilities – The City Administrator is going to talk to each individual Councilor and negotiate wording they would be comfortable approving.  She will bring it back to the Commissioners. (Comment:  Mindlin and Marsh believe this is an inconsequential piece.)

8.            Planning Commission Training & Candidate Prep – Make sure for us and future Planning Commissioners to understand the basics of how we operate in a quasi-judicial manner.  It should be institutionalized

9.            Regional Problem Solving – We need to hear about this soon as it is relevant.  Stalheim will do a presentation before he leaves. 


Dimitre /Dawkins m/s to approve Stromberg’s list.  Voice Vote:   Morris cast the only dissenting vote. 


ADJOURNMENT – The meeting was adjourned at 10:00 p.m. 


Respectfully submitted by,

Susan Yates, Executive Secretary


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