Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Planning Commission Special Mtg

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

These are DRAFT minutes and are pending approval by the Ashland Planning Commission.

June 23, 2015
Chair Melanie Mindlin 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
Debbie Miller
Melanie Mindlin
Haywood Norton
  Bill Molnar, Community Development Director
Maria Harris, Planning Manager
Derek Severson, Associate Planner
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor
Absent Members:   Council Liaison:
Lynn Thompson
Roger Pearce
  Greg Lemhouse, absent
Community Development Director Bill Molnar announced the upcoming meeting schedule and stated there are several new bills being drafted at the state legislature of interest to the commission, including bee keeping regulations and an agriculture zoning bill.
No updates were given.
No one came forward to speak.
  1. PLANNING ACTION:  PA-2015-00928  
SUBJECT PROPERTY:  380 Clay Street
OWNER/APPLICANT:  City of Ashland                                            
DESCRIPTION:  A request for a Tree Removal Permit to remove a 72-inch diameter at breast height (d.b.h.) Fremont Cottonwood tree from the property located at 380 Clay Street. (This tree was previously identified to be preserved and protected as part of Planning Action #2009-00043.COMPREHENSIVE PLAN DESIGNATION: Low Density Multi-Family Residential; ZONING: R-2; ASSESSOR’S MAP: 39 1E 11C; TAX LOT: 2500.
Commissioner Mindlin read aloud the public hearing procedures for land use hearings.
Ex Parte Contact
Commissioners Miller, Brown, and Norton declared site visits; no ex parte contact was reported.
Staff Report
Associate Planner Derek Severson stated the application before them is a request to remove a 72-inch diameter Freemont Cottonwood tree from the property the city owns at 380 Clay Street. He noted there is an existing 1890’s farmhouse on the property and the Snowberry Brook affordable housing development is immediately to the north. He explained in 2008 the city purchased the parcel in cooperation with the Housing Authority of Jackson County and the Ashland Parks Department. A portion of the lot was reserved as wetland area, a portion was acquired by the Parks Department, three acres went to the Housing Authority for the development of 60-units which are now complete, and the remaining section being discussed tonight is under consideration for sale to the Housing Authority to develop more affordable housing. Mr. Severson stated the request to remove the cottonwood would allow the maximum development potential for the lot for the creation of affordable housing. He noted this property originally had three cottonwood trees on the property, one fell in 2006 and the other was removed in 2009 as part of the Snowberry Brook project.
Mr. Severson stated staff believes this decision comes down to two criteria. Approval criteria #3 states: "Removal of the tree will not have a significant negative impact on the tree densities, sizes, canopies, and species diversity within 200 ft. of the subject property. The city shall grant an exception to this criterion when alternatives to the tree removal have been considered and no reasonable alternative exists to allow the property to be used as permitted in the zone.” Mr. Severson stated while the Fremont Cottonwood species is unusual for the area, the Poplar Cottonwood genus is not and there is ample diversity of species within 200 ft. During the Tree Commission’s review of this application they suggested the Freemont species is unusual and the specimen is likely the largest tree in the city and potentially one of the largest trees of this species in the state, and as such they stated its removal would have a significant negative impact on species diversity. He stated the Planning Commission must make a determination on this criteria and also consider if the tree is required to be preserved, does a reasonable alternative exists that would allow the property to be used as permitted within the zone.
Mr. Severson stated the second criteria the commission needs to consider is #4, which states: “Nothing in this section shall require that the residential density to be reduced below the permitted density allowed by the zone. In making this determination, the city may consider alternative site plans or placement of structures of alternate landscaping designs that would lessen the impact on trees, so long as the alternatives continue to comply with the other provisions of this ordinance.”  Mr. Severson explained the minimum density for this property is 10 units, base density is 12 units, and maximum density is 20 units. He stated the applicants assert that keeping the tree would limit develop to its minimum density, while removal of the tree allows for maximum development of the site with affordable housing. Mr. Severson displayed the two conceptual illustrations submitted by the applicant showing possible development of the lot. One provides for 19 units and the necessary 33 parking spaces to serve those units, and the other preserves the tree and would allow for 10 units and associated parking to be built. Mr. Severson stated the Tree Commission recommended denial of the request and indicated they did not believe the applicants had adequately demonstrated that keeping the tree would require residential density below the permitted density of the zone. He explained the Planning Commission must determine if this criteria refers to the minimum, base, or maximum density; and analyze whether the applicant has met the burden of proof in demonstrating the permitted density cannot be obtained by retaining the tree.
Questions of Staff
Staff was asked to comment on whether this tree was discussed during the approval process for Snowberry Brook. Mr. Severson stated when Snowberry Brook was approved conditions were placed to maintain the tree until something happened with this lot and to make the tree non-exempt from the tree removal permitting process. He added it was clear that this property was intended to be sold and developed at a later date for the creation of affordable housing.
Staff was asked about the purpose of the fence surrounding the tree. Mr. Severson remarked that in the past some limbs came down and the fence was erected to prevent any liability issues.
Applicant’s Presentation
Dave Kanner, City Administrator/Mr. Kanner stated this 10-acre parcel was purchased in 2008 for the specific purpose of providing affordable housing. He stated it was a joint purchase by the city and explained the Parks & Recreation Dept. acquired a little over 3-acres and the Housing Authority purchased 4-acres for the Snowberry Brook affordable housing development. Mr. Kanner stated the Housing Authority developed the 4-acres with 60-units, 2-acres were preserved as a wetland, and the remaining acreage was agreed to be transferred to the Housing Authority, at the city’s cost, for additional affordable housing. Mr. Kanner stated that while the tree was identified to be preserved and protected as part of planning action #2009-00043, the preservation and protection was not in perpetuity, it was to protect the tree during the construction of Snowberry Brook. He explained the city would like to remove the tree to make way for its original purchase intent which is to allow for the full development density for affordable housing. He stated the main question is whether the community finds greater value in affordable housing or in a tree that has already reached its prime lifespan and is not appropriate to the location. Mr. Kanner explained Ashland has voted to not increase its urban growth boundary and the ultimate best use of this property is to develop the maximum density allowable in the zone for an affordable housing project. He stated if the tree remains, 10 units can be built; if it is removed, 20 units can be built. Additionally, he stated the Housing Authority has indicated that in order for this project to be feasible they need to develop close to 20 units. Mr. Kanner noted the suggestion to designate this area as a park land and submitted a letter into the record from Parks Director Michael Black. The letter states the Parks Department is not interested in a trade or purchasing this parcel for park land (See Exhibit P-01, attached.) Mr. Kanner commented on the community’s problem with affordable housing and submitted two charts into the record detailing the shortage of affordable rental housing in Ashland (See Exhibits P-02 & P-03, attached.) He also commented on the Tree Commission’s decision and stated a number of the members based their decision on emotion rather than the criteria.
Questions of the Applicant
Mr. Kanner was asked to comment on the proposal submitted by a neighbor that maintains the tree and provides for 15 units. Mr. Kanner stated this drawing has not been submitted to him and therefore he cannot comment on its feasibility.
Mr. Kanner confirmed that all of the units built by the Housing Authority would be rentals.
Mr. Kanner was asked if the city would feel safe removing the fence if the tree was properly maintained. He responded that this would be a question for the city council, however the fact that the lower limbs need to be supported with steel posts reinforces his concerns about this tree.
Mr. Kanner agreed that the exact age of the tree is not know; but stated the age of the tree is not a criteria.
Public Testimony
Norma Bowen/361 Engle/Stated this tree was Tree of the Year and has been named “Hope”. Ms. Bowen stated the residents have been meeting to create a plan that allows for the tree to remain and the creation of affordable units. She noted the Tree Commission voted unanimously to deny the permit and stated this land should be made enjoyable for everyone.
Karen Smith/165 Jessica/Called attention to Ashland being a Tree City USA and recommended they find an alternative that would both save the tree and provide housing.
Kelly McNamara/659 Clay/Stated the trailer park is very simple, but there are lots of trees, a pond, and ducks; and stated she views this tree as a living sculpture and asked that they keep living things of beauty in place.
Bryan Holley/324 Liberty/Stated he is a former Tree Commissioner and this tree was mentioned by a number of neighbors during the Snowberry Brook application, and the developer listened to the concerns and saved the tree. Mr. Holley stated the city is only concerned about money and stated it is untrue the Housing Authority would be content building 20 units. He stated they would need to build 50 units to make the project feasible and would need to find space for the remaining units elsewhere. Mr. Holley stated the neighbors have been meeting on their own to develop a plan and have met with the Housing Authority and their plan was acceptable to them. He asked that the Planning Commission deny the request.
David Winn/2233 Villard #204/Stated the proposal with 15 units is a win-win situation. He stated many old growth trees are being cut down and stated this tree provides lots of shade and cools the air. Mr. Winn stated he likes to go out in the morning and say his prayers around this tree, but has not been able to since the fence has gone up.  
Helene DeMartinez/231 Clay #6A/Stated she is the homeowners association president for Wingspread mobile home park. Ms. DeMartinez commented that this tree is right behind her backyard and the beauty of the area is the reason she moved there over 11 years ago. She stated she is tired of seeing so many things considered old and out of the norm being disregarded and stated this tree is enjoyed by the whole community. Ms. DeMartinez asked the commission to look at all the options and make an intelligent decision.
Carol Voisin/908 Fox/Stated she is speaking as a citizen and not a city councilor. Ms. Voisin stated she served on the Housing Commission for five years and has always been committed to affordable housing. She reminded the commission that the Normal Master Plan area with 500 new planned units is just a few blocks away, and 25% (or 100-125 units) will be required to be affordable. She added perhaps the five units that would be lost to save the tree may be inconsequential. Ms. Voisin stated according to the buildable housing inventory, studios and one bedroom units are the types of housing most needed, however it seems the types that are being planned by the Housing Authority would be larger units and do not meet Ashland’s particular need. She asked the commission to look for a win-win situation, where they can save the tree and also build affordable housing.
Gregg Trunell/400 Clay/Stated he is chair of the Tree Commission but recused himself from this particular issue and is speaking tonight as a public citizen. Mr. Trunell stated the Tree Commission based their decision on the criteria, not emotion, and stated the application meets the minimum density requirement and therefore it was an easy decision. Mr. Trunell stated the application states the maximum age for this type of tree is 130 years, however his fact checking showed the correct verbiage is more than 130 years. He stated the 2013 arborist report says this is a healthy tree and questioned why the fence was put up. He added the arborist report identified in the application was an estimate from Beaver Tree Service and this is not the same as an arborist report. Mr. Trunell stated the land use code for tree preservation is intended to reduce development impacts by preserving healthy trees for soil stability, noise buffering, wind protection, temperature mitigation, and wildlife habitat as well as for the contribution to the character and beauty of Ashland.
Cynthia Moscaritolo/175 Wightman/Stated the quantity of affordable housing was never discussed during the 2008 application and does not believe the intent was to blanket the area with back to back housing. Ms. Moscaritolo stated the city does not have to sell this property to the Housing Authority and recommended the Housing Authority purchase existing units and renovate them in order to increase affordable housing in Ashland. She asked that other properties in Ashland be considered for affordable housing and that all options be looked at for this property. Ms. Moscaritolo submitted a conceptual plan into the record (See Exhibits O-01 & O-02, attached.)
Ron Roth/6950 Old 99 S/Raised issue with the city’s application not addressing the other trees on the property and claimed the city wants to cut down the largest diameter tree in the city so that they can sell the property for more money than they otherwise would be able to. Mr. Roth stated this is a non-native tree and its removal would extricate this species from the City of Ashland. He stated there are reasonable alternatives that could be considered that could save the tree, including three-story buildings for the affordable housing or a land swap with the Parks Department.
Albert Pepe/321 Clay/Asked that the tree be preserved and stated that in order to develop the property an old historic barn would also have to be removed. Mr. Pepe suggested this property be put to good use for the entire community and recommended a community garden. He stated lower Clay street is already crowded and asked that the city look outside the box regarding this parcel and consider other options for affordable housing in Ashland.
Dominique Shelton/55 Brooks/Stated the city wants income from the sale of this property in order to build a parking lot. Ms. Shelton asked the commission to look beyond the given set of variables and asked them to come together to find a solution for this. She stated this tree is not something that can be replaced and asked them to leave something for future generations.
Casey Roland/659 Clay/Clarified a statement he made at the Tree Commission hearing and stated if the only way to provide housing for people in need was to cut down this tree he would probably do it. Mr. Roland stated this tree is likely between 100-135 years old and believes the city council’s decision to proceed with the tree removal application was based on misinformation. He stated all trees drop limbs and branches and stated it is a slippery slope to say this tree is past its prime. Mr. Roland stated he has killed more trees than any person in the room, however this tree is probably one of the first plantings in Ashland and is a tree that needs to be preserved. He stated this tree benefits the whole community and over 100 years of experience by professional arborists have said this tree should be maintained and preserved. He added this tree does not belong to the City of Ashland but rather belongs to the community, and believes with the right approach preserving the tree and building affordable housing is doable.
Christine Menefee/321 Clay St. #8/Ms. Menefee’s written comment in opposition to the removal of the tree was read aloud by Commissioner Mindlin.  
Questions of Staff
Staff was asked to clarify which area will be a community park. Mr. Molnar identified the area acquired by the Parks Department but noted the Parks Commission has not made a determination on how the park land will be used. It is their land to plan and it could be a dog park, active fields, etc.
Staff was asked if the affordable housing element is a criteria in this application. Mr. Molnar stated supporting affordable housing is a broader policy decision of the city. He added a key consideration is criteria #4 that states “nothing in this section shall require that the residential density be reduced below the permitted density allowed by the zone.” He stated the commission needs to determine how to apply this, and whether permitted density means the minimum, base, or maximum density permitted. He added this is a difficult decision and stated “permitted density” is not defined in the code.
Applicant’s Rebuttal
Dave Kanner/Emphasized that the Parks Department has already stated that they are not interested in this property as park land or a community garden. Additionally, they are not interested in swapping their parcel with the city. Mr. Kanner stated this property was acquired in 2008 and there have been six and a half years to find an alternative. He stated the degree to what level people love the tree is not a criteria and stated this application meets the criteria in the code. He stated its removal would not have a negative impact on erosion, soil stability, etc.; the removal would not significantly impact tree densities within 200 ft.; and though this tree is unique to our area it is not a unique tree. The issue is whether or not they can meet the minimum, base, or maximum density of the zone and this is what the commission needs to determine. Mr. Kanner stated the city is not trying to make money off this land and stated the city would make far more money if it sold the parcel at market value. He stated the amount of affordable housing would have to be reduced in order save the tree, and stated he does not agree with this approach when all of the criteria have been met.
Deliberations & Decision
Commissioners Dawkins/Miller m/s to deny PA-2015-00934. DISCUSSION: Dawkins stated while he supports restricting the urban growth boundary he has repeatedly questioned the city’s infill policy and believes they should be growing from the center out. He added he does not support any more development on Clay Street until there is a safe way to cross Ashland Street. Miller agreed with Dawkins on the issue of traffic on Clay Street. She added she does not believe criteria #3 and #4 have been met and would like to see other alternatives explored. Brown disagreed and stated the application meets the criteria in the code. He stated any potential traffic concerns would be addressed when a development proposal comes forward, and this application is about the tree and affordable housing. Brown stated personal preferences are not part of this decision and stated the application clearly meets the requirements in the code. Norton stated he does not support the motion to deny. He stated if the tree stays it will need room to continue to grow, and if you shoehorn in the development it will impact the health of the residents. He added he cannot support keeping the tree if it means the housing will not be adequately designed. Miller cited criteria #3 and stated a reasonable alternative does exist and if they define permitted density as minimum or base density this development could move forward with the tree staying. Brown noted the tree will continue to be preserved until an adequate plan is presented and at that time they can discuss traffic, number of units, etc. Mindlin stated affordable housing and its value it not an approval criteria and stated she does not believe the application satisfies the criteria in the code. Mindlin stated criteria #3 has not been met and regarding criteria #4 she does not believe this means they have to allow someone to build the maximum density without considering the other factors. She added she does not support pre-approving the tree removal before seeing alternate plans. Roll Call Vote: Commissioners Dawkins, Miller and Mindlin, YES. Commissioners Brown and Norton, NO. Motion passed 3-2.
  1. Discussion of Ordinance Amendments for Homegrown Recreational Marijuana.
Planning Manager Maria Harris presented language that could be used as a starting point for regulations on recreational marijuana. She explained starting July 1, 2015 people are allowed to have up to four marijuana plants and explained the city has had some code compliance issues with marijuana grows, mostly on odor, lights and fans. Ms. Harris reviewed the draft language that would place limitations on outdoor grows and stated the intent it to minimize adverse impacts to neighbors. She requested the commission provide input on the number of plants that should be allowed, whether this should be per lot or per household, and whether requiring setbacks is the right direction to go. She noted the state will begin accepting licenses for commercial sale sites in January 2016, and clarified tonight’s discussion is only about residences.
Commission Discussion
Commissioner Brown asked if state law allows the city to restrict the number of plants and Ms. Harris replied that staff believes so, however they are not allowed to increase the number. It was asked how tall the plants can grow and Ms. Harris explained they can get up to 8-10 ft. tall. Brown suggested they consider limiting the height of the plants, since at this height they would be clearly visible over a fence.
Ms. Harris stated there are two moving parts and explained medicinal marijuana is loosely regulated by the state and allows six plants per card holder, however people have started growing for other card holders. She explained this ordinance would limit outdoor growing regardless of whether it is for medicinal or recreational use.
Commissioner Dawkins expressed concern with rental units being taken out of the housing stock and used as grow houses, and questioned if they should use electric bills to detect where indoor grows are happening.
Commissioner Mindlin asked if greenhouses would meet the screening requirements and staff indicated they could address this in the ordinance as a possible screening alternative.
City Administrator Dave Kanner addressed the commission and stated his recommendation is to place a limitation on the number of plants grown outdoors, and stated they may run into problems with legislation if they try to limit the number grown indoors. Regarding the height concern, he stated as long as it is not visible from any public place he is not concerned if the plants are visible over the top of a backyard fence. Mr. Kanner stated his main concern is regarding large grow sites consisting of 20 or more plants and explained the odor of a grow this size impacts entire neighborhoods. He explained he has spoken with the city’s code compliance officer and his opinion was that four plants would create an odor, but it would not be so obnoxious that neighbors can’t enjoy their outdoor spaces. He stated he is not concerned with whether they are growing for recreational of medicinal uses, but if they want to grow more than four plants they need to do it inside. He stated the electrical use component is interesting and stated while they cannot single out one type of business for higher rates, the city can establish excess of peak use charges and apply it to all commercial businesses. Regarding Dawkins concern, Mr. Kanner stated it is very expensive to rent a house in Ashland and there is a shortage of available rental properties, and he does not believe it will be worth someone’s while to establish a grow operation in Ashland when there are far less expensive options elsewhere.
Commissioners Brown/Dawkins m/s to direct staff to initiate the amendments and prepare an ordinance. Roll Call Vote: all AYES. Motion passed unanimously.
Meeting adjourned at 9:30 p.m.
Submitted by,
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor


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