Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Planning Commission Study Session

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

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

FEBRUARY 23, 2016
Chair Melanie Mindlin called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. in the Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 East Main Street.
Planning Commissioners Present:   Staff Present:
Troy J. Brown, Jr.
Michael Dawkins
Debbie Miller
Melanie Mindlin
Haywood Norton
Roger Pearce
Lynn Thompson
  Bill Molnar, Community Development Director
Brandon Goldman, Senior Planner
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor
Tree Commissioners Present:   Council Liaison:
Maureen Batistella   Greg Lemhouse, absent
Wildfire Mitigation Commissioners Present:    
Victoria Sturtevant    
Community Development Director Bill Molnar stated the March 8 agenda will include two sets of findings for adoption and the public hearing for the Airport Overlay modifications, and stated the April meeting will be a full one with two public hearings already scheduled. He noted the upcoming May retreat and stated staff will send out a formal query to determine the date.
No one came forward to speak.
  1. Development Standards for Wildfire Lands Ordinance Amendments.
Senior Planner Brandon Goldman explained the draft ordinance: 1) moves the current wildfire lands boundary to incorporate the entire city, 2) sets development thresholds for fire prevention and control plans and fuels reduction requirements, and 3) adopts a fuel break prohibited plant list. Fire prevention and control plans would be required for planning actions involving subdivisions, site design review, or partitions; and fuel break requirements would be required for all new structures (including decks and accessory structures) that increase lot coverage by 200 sq.ft. or more; additions to existing buildings that increase the gross floor area by 200 sq.ft. or more; and conversions of existing detached buildings into new habitable space. Mr. Goldman reviewed the fuel break requirements outlined in the staff report and stated there are a few areas that are still under discussion, including roofing materials, tree canopy separation requirements and distance from structures, and whether to apply the fuel break prohibited plant list citywide.
Alison Lerch with Ashland Fire and Rescue distributed a list of other communities that have adopted similar requirements, and Fire Chief John Karns and Forestry Division Chief Chris Chambers addressed the commission. Mr. Karns clarified they are seeking a prohibition against all wood roofs, even those marketed as fire resistant, and commented on their request to have a 10 ft. separation requirement for highly flammable trees. Mr. Chambers stated the international wildland-urban interface model code includes a 10 ft. separation standard and presented examples of landscaping in town that would comply with the proposed requirements.
The commission and staff held general conversation about the proposed requirements. Questions and comments about the draft ordinance included:
  • Clarification from staff that the ordinance would include an appeals process.
  • Staff was questioned whether the proposed triggers would get the city to where it wants quickly enough.
  • Comment was made questioning how this ordinance fits in with the city’s other goals and the city’s distinction as a Bee City USA and Tree City USA.
  • Mr. Chambers clarified the ordinance was adjusted to allow mulch next to foundations and structures with non-combustible siding.
  • Tree Commissioner Maureen Batistella stated their commission did discuss the ordinance and Commissioner Oxidine was tasked with reviewing the prohibited plant list and forwarding a recommendation. Mr. Goldman stated staff had not received this recommendation and encouraged the full Tree Commission to conduct a review and provide a formal recommendation.
  • Staff was asked if one of the goals is to reduce conifer trees. Mr. Chambers stated this was not a goal, but agreed the proposal would result in fewer conifer trees in town. He stated they would still be allowed as long as they are at least 30 ft. from a structure or located in a park or open space area.
  • Comment was made expressing concern regarding the proposed language in Section
  • Concern was expressed that on some lots the fuel break could encompass the entire property and would require property owners to rethink and modify their entire landscaping.
  • Concern was expressed that the proposed standards could have a significant impact on mature landscaping in Ashland and could also pose a significant financial burden to bring the landscaping into compliance.
  • Comment was made that the ordinance is “one size fits all” but there are different levels of risk within the city; and mitigating at this highest level, even in areas where the risk is lower, would result in a significant cost to those property owners. 
  • Fire Marshal Margueritte Hickman explained in their current procedures they are able to make judgement calls and provide guidance in the field and they would like to include more flexibility in the ordinance, but that is not the way the land use code works.
  • Correction was noted to Section It references section B5 but that does not exist.
  • Comment was made voicing support for including the prohibited plant list in Chapter 9 and applying it citywide.
  • Concern was expressed on whether this ordinance would be effective in reducing the city’s fire danger. Comment was made that there will not be enough people coming in for permits to create heard immunity for a neighborhood and requiring these requirements on a minor project (such as a deck addition) would not only be costly and potentially unfair, but potentially unconstitutional.
  • Opposing comment was made that this is a long term plan and once citizens are informed some of these actions they will do on their own. It was stated that the proposal is feasible and they should start now and overtime the city will become more protected.
  • Comment was made that the requirements are appropriate for new construction, but small additions should not be included.
  • Staff was questioned why this is tied to building permits when it is really more of a health and safety issue.
  • Comment was made that additional time, money, and staffing will be required however they approach this.
  • Mr. Karns stated that even if only 1 out of 20 homes complies, fire behavior changes and the rate of speed changes, and stated there is still value in having sporadic compliance.
  • Ms. Hickman clarified when the Fire Department approached the City Council a number of years ago for a citywide vegetation ordinance they were not supportive. She added their mission is to make the community safer and they are willing to move forward however the Council decides.
  • Ms. Hickman clarified one of the Council goals is to complete this expansion and this proposal is directly in line with one of their stated goals.
  • Comment was made suggesting the Fire Department focus on re-roofing to reduce the risk of fire spreading rapidly instead of landscaping and small additions.
  • Suggestion was made for the next discussion of this topic to be a joint meeting with the City Council.
The commission and staff concluded their discussion and it was announced that there will be an Open House on Thursday, February 25 for interested citizens and local professionals to get information on the proposal and meet with staff. Commissioner Mindlin commented that they are accustomed to having unanimity and believes more work is needed to get this to something that is workable. She encouraged staff to continue working on the proposal and stated she does want to push forward with the public hearings and have a split vote.
Meeting adjourned at 8:55 p.m.
Submitted by,
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor


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