Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Planning Commission Mtg

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

JANUARY 10, 2017
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
Roger Pearce
Lynn Thompson
  Bill Molnar, Community Development Director
Brandon Goldman, Senior Planner
Derek Severson, Senior Planner
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor
Absent Members:   Council Liaison:
None   Greg Lemhouse, absent
Community Development Director Bill Molnar made the following announcements: 1) DEQ will be holding an informational meeting on January 19 regarding the railroad property cleanup project, 2) the commission’s January 24 meeting will include a legislative public hearing for an amendment to the Neil Creek floodplain map, 3) on January 19 Project Manager Adam Hanks will present an update on the Climate Action and Energy Plan, and 4) the annual State of the City Address will be held on January 31 at the Community Center.
  1. Approval of Minutes.
  1. December 13, 2016 Regular Meeting.
Commissioners Thompson/Miller m/s to approve the Consent Agenda. Voice Vote: all AYES. Motion passed 7-0.
Huelz Gutcheon/Spoke regarding climate change and global warming.   
  1. Adoption of Findings for PA-2016-02060, 639 Tolman Creek Road.
No ex parte contact was reported.
Commissioners Brown/Thompson m/s to approve the Findings for PA-2016-02060. Voice Vote: all AYES. Motion passed 7-0.
  1. PLANNING ACTION:  PA-2016-01894  
SUBJECT PROPERTY:  1651 Ashland Street
OWNER/APPLICANT:  Rogue Credit Union/Kistler, Small & White Architects, LLC
DESCRIPTION:  A request for Site Design Review approval to construct a 4,508 square foot, single-story credit union building with drive-up window as part of the phased development of the properties located at 1651 Ashland Street. Also included are requests for a Property Line Adjustment and a Tree Removal Permit to remove eight of the site’s 24 trees. COMPREHENSIVE PLAN DESIGNATION: Commercial; ZONING: C-1; ASSESSOR’S MAP: 39 1E 10DC; TAX LOT #: 8700 & 9201.   
Commissioner Mindlin read aloud the public hearing procedures for land use hearings.
Ex Parte Contact
Commissioners Pearce, Norton, and Miller declared site visits. No ex parte contact was reported.
Staff Report
Senior Planner Derek Severson stated the subject property is located at 1651 Ashland Street, across from Lit Way and the Wendy’s restaurant. He explained the request is for site design review to construct a 4,508 sq.ft. single story credit union building with a drive-up window. A shadow plan has been submitted which includes adjoining property and shows how the minimum floor area ratio (FAR) of .50 could be met in a later phase; however, the adjoining property will be outside the future control of the applicant. As proposed the 4,508 sq.ft. building on lot 2 achieves a .247 FAR. The shadow plan shows additional buildings could be constructed on lot 1 to achieve a FAR of .624 and combined the two lots would have a .506 FAR. Mr. Severson stated the applicant is also requesting permission to remove 8 of the site’s 24 trees and a property line adjustment.
Mr. Severson displayed photos of the site as well as the applicant’s site plan, lot line adjustment, proposed building elevations, landscape plan, utility plan, tree removal and protection plan, and the architects rendering of the new building. Mr. Severson noted the applicants submitted a traffic impact analysis which shows that the streets serving the property have adequate capacity. The Public Works Department has concurred with this finding and they have no additional recommendations for this project.
Mr. Severson stated the three primary concerns raised in the staff report are:
  1. The Electric Department has not been consulted to verify whether adequate capacity to serve the property is already in place or can be provided.
  2. There needs to be further consideration or cross easements to enable pedestrian and/or vehicular connectivity with adjacent properties.
  3. The shadow plan provided appears to counter the intent of the FAR standard.
Mr. Severson explained that following the release of the staff report the applicants met with the Electric Department and received direction. The transformer location shown on the plan will work but it will require boring or trenching underneath Ashland Street to a transformer located in front of Wendy’s. Additionally, Planning staff and the Electric Department would like to see the transformer located outside of the parkrow and behind the sidewalk. Mr. Severson touched briefly on the staff recommendation to include cross easements that would enable future pedestrian connectivity with adjacent properties and stated the last issue is regarding the minimum FAR standard. He presented the code language and stated the purpose of the FAR standard is to 1) deliberately create an environment supportive to transit, similar to a minimum residential density, 2) seek efficient use of available commercial land in keeping with Regional Problem Solving commitments and the associated goals and policies, and 3) provide a sense of enclosure to the streetscape. Mr. Severson stated in order to receive an exception to this standard the application must meet the following criteria: 1) there is a demonstrable difficultly meeting the specific requirement of the Site Development Design Standards due to a unique aspect of an existing structure or the proposed use of the site; and approval of the exception will not substantially negatively impact adjacent properties; and approval of the exception is consistent with the stated purpose of the Site Development and Design standards; and the exception requested is the minimum which would alleviate the difficulty, or 2) there is no demonstrable difficulty in meeting the specific requirements, but granting the exception will result in a design that equally or better achieves the stated purpose of the Site Development and Design Standard.
Mr. Severson explained it is difficult for staff to support the approval of the exception request. He added the commission has several options; they could approve the exception request with the recommended conditions of approval, deny with action without prejudice which allows for a new application to be submitted within one year, or continue the hearing and provide direction to the applicants relative to the FAR. Mr. Severson concluded his presentation and stated staff is recommending the last option. 
Questions of Staff
Commissioner Pearce asked about the FAR and Mr. Severson clarified the proposed FAR for the credit union building is .247.
Commissioner Norton inquired about the parking. Mr. Severson clarified the applicants have proposed 14 spaces where only 13 are required. He also confirmed if the building size is increased, the parking requirement will go up.
Commission Thompson asked about the plaza and landscaping ratio and stated it appears they have a deficit. Mr. Severson recommended this question be addressed by the applicant.
Applicant’s Presentation
Matt Stephenson/Rogue Credit Union Executive Vice President & COO/Mr. Stephenson explained the credit union was started locally 60 years ago by a group of teachers and they have been in their current building in Ashland since the 1980’s. He noted there are now branches inside Ashland High School and Southern Oregon University and stated their partnership with the citizens of Ashland has allowed them to see tremendous growth in their membership. Mr. Stephenson stated the Ashland branch currently services 12,000 members and their membership has expressed their desire for a branch with better vehicle accessibility. He explained the credit union has a fiscal responsibility to their members to not build a structure larger than they need, and noted their desire to partner with a local agency who would build affordable housing on the adjacent lot.
Jerome White/Project Architect/Mr. White stated the shadow plan shows how the FAR requirement can be met over time and stated if the building size increases the parking requirements go up. He commented that they have addressed the electric requirements and are comfortable with the condition recommended by staff. He also stated they are open to cross easements and already have some existing in the title. Mr. White stated the primary issue with this proposal is the FAR. He cited the shadow plan provision provided for in the land use code and stated the FAR could be met if you combine both lots. He explained as a credit union they are not permitted to develop property that is not for their own use and this is the basis for their exception request.
Mr. Stephenson noted the federal and state regulations that prohibit them from doing development that is not for their own use and explained they would like to sell the other lot to an agency who will construct housing.
Mr. White provided a brief overview of the project details, including 8 ft. sidewalks, 10 bicycle parking spaces, direct access to the bike lane, a covered bench that could serve as a future transit shelter, and solar panels on the roof. He stated they believe the proposal meets the intent of the code and asked for the commission’s support.
Questions of the Applicant
Commissioner Mindlin stated the Planning Commission and the city are working hard to increase the density in this area and asked the applicants to address the FAR exception criteria and explain why their proposal is equal or better. Mr. Stephenson stated if you look at the property collectively, it does meet the FAR. He added they believe having the property developed by them is better than it sitting empty.
Commissioner Thompson questioned how a higher FAR could be imposed on the back lot if it is under different ownership and the land use code does not require it. Mr. White stated whoever purchases that property will want to build as much as possible and there is enough space to do what is shown in the shadow plan; their only limitation is parking. Commissioner Pearce stated he had the same question. He commented that the shadow plan looks at the whole site but this is really two sites, not one. Mr. Stephenson restated their intent to sell the lot for affordable housing. Mr. White commented that Rogue Credit Union is a good community member and stated the land use ordinance is asking them to build space they don’t need.
Commissioner Miller asked how long the development of the second lot would take and asked what the first floors would be used for. Mr. White stated under the current standards a commercial use would be located on the first floor with housing units above; however it has been discussed in the past to rezone this area to R3 and he would like to see that happen so that residential units could go on the first floor as well.
Commissioner Norton questioned if the drive-thru was removed could they achieve the parking needed for a larger building. Mr. Stephenson stated the number one issue they get requests for in Ashland is a drive-up window and improved parking.
Commissioner Brown asked what will happen with lot one in the interim. Mr. Stephenson stated they would maintain it as flat land until it is sold. He added they are not allowed to do more than that but they will clearly maintain it to city standards.
Staff was asked why they were not supportive of a future second story on the proposed credit union building at the pre-application stage. Mr. Severson questioned the appropriateness of approving a shadow plan that is unlikely to ever happen. He stated Ashland has never had a commercial building that later adds a second story for housing. He stated it did not appear this was a realistic option and stated it was better to request the exception.
Project Traffic Engineer Kim Parducci was asked to come forward and speak to the circulation plan. She clarified for the commission that they anticipate most turns from the west driveway will be right turn only and if drivers wish to make a left onto Ashland Street they will likely go back through the site and use the main entrance.
Mr. Stephenson was asked how long ago they acquired the property and he responded 18 months. When asked if they were aware at the time of the pre-application conference that there were FAR requirements he responded “Yes.”
Public Testimony
Jerry Hauck/847 Garden Way/Stated he is a retired teacher and coach from Ashland High School and is currently chairman of the RCU board. Mr. Hauck stated they are proud of what they do for the community and will continue to be here for a long time. He stated they are constantly being hit with requests for more space at the Ashland branch and a better parking lot.
Liz Shelby/1016 Aspen St., Medford/Stated she has been employed at Southern Oregon University for 25 years and is currently a RCU board member. Ms. Shelby explained they have been looking for years to find a good site in Ashland to better serve their members and accommodate growth. She stated this is an ideal site and noted their fiduciary responsibility to balance what is good for the members with the safeguarding the brand and financial integrity. She stated this is a win-win situation and hopes the commission will approve their request.  
Scott Mulkins/365 Ridge Rd/Stated he chose to live and work in Ashland due to its progressive scene and hopes they will place a premium on good progressive companies like Rogue Credit Union and grant the exception.
Huelz Gutcheon/2253 Highway 99/Requested Ashland require all new structures to be completely autonomous, with no utilities going in or out, and everything on the site being clean energy.
John Fields/845 Oak St/Recommended the commission use the flexibility allowed in the code when looking at projects. Mr. Fields stated businesses have ideas and needs and need some room to function. He voiced his objections to overly mandating proposals and encouraged the commission to support the application just the way it is.
Commissioner Mindlin closed the hearing and the record at 8:30 p.m.
Questions of Staff
Mr. Molnar stated staff has been working with the applicant and project team for some time and they have tremendous respect for them. He said staff has been very honest about what they can and can’t do at this location. He explained the application is eligible for an exception which provides the commission more flexibility than a variance. He stated if the commission accepts the applicant’s findings, the proposed use and its restrictions presents an unusual circumstance. Mr. Molnar noted the shadow plan is very detailed and shows how the entire property can meet the .50 FAR. He stated the applicants are committed to findings a good partner for the remainder of the property and there are a lot of options for this property over time.
Commissioner Dawkins questioned the feasibility of making an exception that no commercial is needed on the rest of the property. Mr. Molnar clarified this would have to be a zone change and could not be done under the exception criteria.
Commissioner Thompson asked if the exception is granted, would there be restrictions on the back property? Mr. Molnar noted the applicants have indicated the potential for a deed restriction which would put a higher burden on that property when it is developed. He added with no deed restriction the parcel would be subject to the current standards.
Staff clarified the application before them is only for lot two.
Deliberations and Decision
Commissioners Brown/Dawkins m/s to accept the proposal for PA-2016-01894 as presented and approve the exception. DISCUSSION: Brown commented that the exception criteria is there for a reason and once in a while you run into a project that warrants it. He stated he does not believe this sets precedence and stated not all businesses have the same limitations as Rogue Credit Union. He stated this proposal meets the exception criteria and recommended they not restrict what is done with the adjoining lot. Pearce stated he is open to a discussion on granting the exception, however he is having a hard time with the “as good or better” criteria. He agreed with Brown that they should leave the other lot alone and not add deed restrictions. Thompson commented that this is a big exception and does not adhere to what the land use code outlines for a piece of property this size. She acknowledged the applicant’s arguments but questioned if the design achieves the stated purpose equally or better. Miller commented that it would be easier to approve the exception if they were a little closer to the .50 FAR requirement. Norton voiced support for the motion. He commented that the drive-thru use is a unique and unusual circumstance and noted the applicants own the last available drive-thru in the city. Mindlin expressed concern with the commission defining the special circumstance and having to justify the exception themselves. Mr. Molnar clarified the applicants made an argument under exception criteria (2) and there has been testimony tonight presenting arguments under criteria (1). He went on to say the record contains information on both and the commission could grant the exception under either criteria. Pearce commented that it is difficult to make the case based on the “as good or better” criteria. He stated the other criteria speaks to the unique or unusual aspect of the existing structure or proposed use, but they are considering approving this based on the proposed user, not use. He stated it is a bank use all banks have different requirements and regulations and raised concern with granting an exception based on the proposed user. Thompson commented that other businesses could potentially make a similar argument that they should not have to build a larger building and meet the FAR requirement because they do not need the extra space and doing so would be an imprudent use of their resources. Brown commented that most businesses that build larger structures have the ability to lease the extra space out, but this applicant cannot. Dawkins commented on the city’s policy for infill and stated this is not a good use for this big parcel of land. He added that he will not vote on principle and will base his decision on whether the application meets the exception criteria. Thompson stated she will reluctantly vote no and commented that the requirements for the exception have not been met. Mindlin agreed that the exception is hard to justify. Roll Call Vote: Commissioners Brown and Norton, YES. Commissioners Dawkins, Pearce, Thompson, Miller, and Mindlin, NO. Motion failed 5-2.
Commissioners Thompson/Miller m/s to deny the application without prejudice. Roll Call Vote: Commissioner Norton, NO. Commissioners Brown, Thompson, Dawkins, Miller, Pearce, and Mindlin, YES. Motion passed 6-1.
  1. Cottage Housing Standards.
Senior Planner Brandon Goldman provided a brief history of the draft cottage housing ordinance and stated staff is seeking feedback before the ordinance comes back for final refinements and the formal public hearing. He explained the draft ordinance now includes a maximum unit size of 1,000 sq.ft. and the exemption to allow preexisting single family homes to remain on the site is still included, but a maximum floor area ratio (FAR) requirement has been added. Mr. Goldman asked for the commission’s feedback on the appropriate scale of cottage housing developments. He questioned if three units would be acceptable for smaller sized lots and whether 12 or 16 was appropriate for the higher end. He also commented on the feedback he received from his discussions with local building professionals who cited lot coverage concerns. In response, staff is considering increasing the lot coverage requirements to accommodate impervious surfaces such as parking, driveways, sidewalks, and porches. Mr. Goldman stated another consideration raised by the building professionals was how to accommodate external storage (shared garages, etc.) under the .35 FAR. He stated staff will need to come back with additional detail on whether those common buildings that are used by all members of a cottage housing development would be allowable under the FAR if it stays at .35.
Commissioners Dawkins/Miller m/s to extend meeting to 10:00 p.m.
Commissioner Feedback
  • Commissioner Mindlin commented that it makes more sense to have a different standard for garages and inhabitable spaces.
  • Commissioner Pearce thanked staff to reaching out to the development community and voiced support for a minimum of 3 units and a maximum of 12. He also voiced his support for increasing lot coverage for impervious surfaces.
  • Commissioner Norton recommended the ordinance include a parking requirement that is at least equivalent to the multifamily parking standard and to base it on bedrooms instead of square footage. He added using a requirement that is less than multifamily would be a mistake in single family neighborhoods.
  • Commissioner Miller encouraged design standards that would complement single family neighborhoods.
  • Commissioner Dawkins agreed with a range of 3 to 12 units.
  • Commissioner Mindlin agreed with what has been said but would like a maximum of 16 units. She noted it is unlikely they would get a development this size due to available lot sizes, but they should not prohibit it. Mindlin expressed concerned with over-regulating the design of the open space and stated she would be willing to let go of most of those requirements.
  • Commissioner Brown suggested general language be added that would allow them to address design elements and protect individual privacy. He commented on the buildings relationships to each other and the buildings relationship to open space and stated they to make sure the sense of privacy is maintained.
Meeting adjourned at 9:55 p.m.
Submitted by,
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor


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