Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Planning Commission Study Session

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 24, 2014
Chair Richard Kaplan called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. in the Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 East Main Street.
Commissioners Present:   Staff Present:
Troy J. Brown, Jr.
Michael Dawkins
Richard Kaplan
Debbie Miller
Melanie Mindlin
Lynn Thompson
  Bill Molnar, Community Development Director
Absent Members:   Council Liaison:
Tracy Peddicord   Mike Morris, absent
Community Development Director Bill Molnar announced next Tuesday the City Council will hear the Planning Commissionís report on short term home rentals. Also on the agenda is the second reading of the medical marijuana dispensary ordinance.
SDC Review Committee: Commissioner Brown stated the group has completed their review of the water and sewer SDC charges but have not voted yet. Next up are the transportation SDCs.
Normal Neighborhood Plan Working Group: Commissioner Dawkins stated the group held its first meeting and discussed the scope of work. They intend to hold 5-6 meetings and the biggest issue appears to be the assumptions on density. Dawkins stated if the density does not go here, the City will need to decide where it should go. He noted the other items to be discussed include transportation connectivity, open space, and conservation easements.
No one came forward to speak.
  1. Presentation by the Ashland Fire Department on Amending the Wildfire Hazard Zone.
Community Development Director Bill Molnar explained much of land use planning at the city level is under the broad umbrella of the statewide planning goals, and one of those goals is to manage areas subject to natural hazards. He stated the Cityís comprehensive plan and zoning code are the tools used to implement state policies at the local level, and this particular goal requires cities to inventory hazardous areas, set policies, and adopt standards to protect property and citizens.
Fire Chief John Karns, Fire & Life Safety Division Chief Margueritte Hickman, and Forestry Division Chief Chris Chambers addressed the Commission and presented their proposal to expand the wildfire hazard zone in Ashland. Mr. Karns provided an overview of how the Ashland Fire Department conducted their review of the current wildfire hazard zone by using the standards set forth by the Oregon Department of Forestry, which look at weather, typography, fuel model, and fuel concentration. He stated they came up with 16 different groups, applied the ODF standards, and determined all of Ashland qualifies as a wildfire hazard zone.
Margueritte Hickman displayed photos and provided descriptions of several fires that have occurred in Ashland in the last ten years. She commented on screening vegetation and explained certain types of vegetation directly impact the threat to structures and aid in the spreading of the fire. Ms. Hickman pointed out that the Cityís land use code requires screening materials be used in order to protect the privacy of neighbors, but suggested photinia be used in place of junipers and cypress plants since it is fire resistant and can grow very high. Commissioner Thompson commented that the deer like to eat photinia, which may be why it has not been widely used for screening. Ms. Hickman commented on the Oak Knoll fire and stated a leland cypress located directly against one of the homes assisted in its burning. She stated had that tree not been there, there is a good chance that house would have survived.
Chris Chambers explained their proposal to expand the wildfire hazard zone includes two other elements: 1) screening materials, and 2) hazard tree removals. He spoke to the latter and stated the current process for hazard tree removal is not easy. He explained they would like to develop a process where the Fire Department would have the authority to sign off on a plan and file it with the Community Development Department. Mr. Chambers stated there are not a lot of these situations, but when they have come up it has been a struggle to get the hazard trees removed in a fast, efficient, and low cost way for citizens.
A video of the Oak Knoll fire was played for the Commission. Mr. Karns stated this is one of those situations where you want to have those preplanned items in place including correct vegetation, no wood roofs, and a very aware citizenry that knows that the threat is there and are prepared to leave at a momentís notice. He stated they came very close to losing citizens in this fire and stated 11 homes burned within 45 minutes. He added every four minutes a home was consumed and stated the junipers, cypress, blackberries, and dry grass aided in the fast spreading nature of this fire.
Mr. Karns stated they have a long term strategy to increase the safety of the community and this is just one rung in the ladder. He noted the systems already in place, including the Cityís Firewise program, a mass reverse 911 notification system, the Ashland Forest Resiliency program, and the numerous emergency preparedness trainings held for staff, citizens, and businesses. He stated it is important to understand that Ashland has a significant wildfire threat throughout its boundaries and the expansion of the wildfire hazard zone will improve the overall safety for the community.
Commissioner Questions:
  • What are the implications for property owners with existing structures? Mr. Karns explained there will not be any retroactive regulations. He stated if a property owner puts a new roof on their home the City would require a material other than wood shingles. He stated new developments and subdivisions would be required to provide a fire control plan approved by the Fire Department, and owners who put additions onto their existing structures could be required to complete a fuels reduction process. Mr. Karns commented on insurance rates and stated classifying the entire City as wildfire hazard lands would not impact citizensí insurance rates.
  • Will this change come back before the Planning Commission? Mr. Molnar clarified the wildfire hazard zone is an official zone adopted by the City and any changes would require the approval of an ordinance, with public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.
  • Did the Fire Department consider what the wildfire threat will be when the large, flatter, grassy areas in town are eventually built out? Mr. Karns stated they can reevaluate certain areas when they are developed and determine the risk factor at that time.
  • Will this impact the Fire Departmentís staffing levels? Mr. Karns said No, although they will try to move the part-time Fire Adaptive Communities Coordinator to a full time position.
  • Will this impact the Cityís annexation process? Mr. Molnar clarified once annexed the area will be subject to the provisions of the Ashland municipal code.
Mr. Molnar commented on the transportation of embers and asked about county lands that are either adjacent to Ashland or within our urban growth boundary but outside the City limits. Mr. Karns stated the Fire Department has had a number of conversations with the County, however none have been very productive and stated it will be one of the bigger challenges to work out some sort of arrangement. He pointed out that the Oak Knoll fire did not start in Ashland and was started in the County where weed abatement is not required. Mr. Chambers commented that the most important thing the City can do to reduce loss of structure and life is to manage its structures and vegetation within the city limits.
Meeting adjourned at 8:05 p.m.
Submitted by,
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor


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