Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Planning Commission Mtg

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


June 12, 2018

Chair Roger Pearce called the meeting to order at 7:04 p.m. in the Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 East Main Street.

Commissioners Present:   Staff Present:
Troy Brown, Jr.
Michael Dawkins
Melanie Mindlin
Haywood Norton
Roger Pearce
  Bill Molnar, Community Development Director
Maria Harris, Planning Manager
Dana Smith, Executive Assistant

Absent Members:   Council Liaison:
Lynn Thompson   Dennis Slattery, absent  
Community Development Director Bill Molnar explained the Commission would hear two public hearings at their meeting June 26, 2018.   The Wildfire Ordinance and the appeal of the Southern Oregon University (SOU) cell tower.  He recommended starting with the Wildfire Ordinance then continuing it to another meeting to accommodate the appeal.  The City Council would have a public hearing June 19, 2018, regarding the Accessory Residential Units Amendments Ordinance.  He encouraged commissioners to attend the meeting.  He distributed the draft agenda for the upcoming Retreat.  Lastly, former Commissioner Miller had withdrawn her request for reappointment. 
Commissioner Brown provided an update on the Transportation System Development Review Committee.  They met earlier in the day and set the groundwork for the review process.   
  1. Approval of Minutes
1.  May 8, 2018 Regular Meeting
2.  May 22, 2018 Study Session
Commissioners Brown/Mindlin m/s to approve the minutes of the Regular meeting May 8, 2018.  Chair Pearce was absent for the meeting and abstained from the vote.  Voice Vote: all AYES.  Motion passed 4-0.
Commissioners Dawkins/Brown m/s to approve the minutes of the Study Session May 22, 2018.   Voice Vote: all AYES.  Motion passed 5-0.
Huelz Gutcheon/Ashland/Spoke on climate change, the need to stop development, how wealthy people moving to town increased criminal behavior, and traffic.


DESCRIPTION:  An ordinance adding a new Chapter 18.3.14 Transit Triangle Overlay, a Transit Triangle (TT) overlay map and amending chapters 18.2.1, 18.2.2, 18.2.3, 18.2.3, 18.3.12, 18.3.13, 18.4.3, 18.6.1 of the Ashland Municipal Code to implement the recommendations of the infill strategy project for the area surrounding the bus route in the southeastern part of Ashland that circulates on Ashland St., Tolman Creek Rd., and Siskiyou Blvd., also referred to as the transit triangle. 
Chair Pearce explained this was a continued public hearing from the meeting May 22, 2018.  This was not a quasi-judicial public hearing.  The Commission would make a recommendation to the City Council.  Community Director Bill Molnar added Fregonese and Associates were unable to attend the meeting due to a family emergency.
Staff Report or Consultant Report
Planning Manager Maria Harris explained the project started in 2016 and consisted of nine public meetings, two phases, two stakeholder’s meetings and an open house.  Staff emailed the public hearing notice to all participants in the open house and stakeholder meetings in addition to the newspaper. 
The Transit Triangle would increase rental housing units and provide an area where residents had options for getting around.  Currently, the purchasing power of a median-income household in Ashland was $217,950. In 2017, the median home price was $421,500.  There were low vacancy rates and increased rental costs.  In Ashland, 39.4% of households had one person compared to 27.8 for the state.  Of that, 44.8% of those households were renter-occupied.  The median size for Ashland was two people per household.
The proposed area had a supply of vacant and re-developable land.  It was served by Rogue Valley Transportation District (RVTD) Route 10 with shopping and services within walking distance.
Background supporting the project included:
The 2015 City Council Strategic Plan
  • 5.2.a Pursue affordable housing opportunities, especially workforce housing.  Identify specific incentives for developers to build more affordable housing.
  • 13.2 Develop infill and compact urban form policies.
  • 18.2 Develop and encourage alternative transportation options.
The 2012 Greater Bear Creek Valley Regional Plan
  • No areas identified for urban growth boundary expansion.
  • Minimum of 6.6 dwelling units per gross acre.
A recent report from the Regional Housing Strategy that showed Ashland was slightly behind the minimum 6.6 dwellings at 6.4 units per gross acre.
The project’s purpose was encouraging development and redevelopment adjacent to the bus route that included commercial and residential uses.  Being near the bus route provided transportation options and promoted sustainable planning.
Project Objectives included:
  • Diversify housing supply by providing an area to build moderately priced rental units.
  • Provide a better environment for local business development and expansion.
  • Support transit service through increased ridership.
  • Create a walkable setting in close proximity to existing neighborhoods.
The market feasibility model under the current zoning and development standards indicated large residential units with rates exceeding market rates.  Commercial rents were too low to make construction feasible.  Changing the requirements for residential density, the number of stories, required parking and landscaping coverage could result in the following:
  • Increased number of residential units.
  • A decrease in the size of residential units.
  • Rents decreased.
Fregonese and Associates put together several ordinance changes.  The Transit Triangle Overlay created a new chapter, 18.3.14 that was optional and not mandatory.  However, if a developer elected to use the overlay, they would have to meet all requirements of 18.3.14.  The Overlay option required residential units to be rentals.  It prohibited hotel, motel and Travelers’ Accommodations prohibited.  The commercial and residential split included:
  • C-1 and E-1: 50% of the ground floor in permitted uses (non-residential).
  • R-2 and R-3: 60 square feet of retail, restaurant or office permitted for each residential unit.

For Dimensional Standards in the Overlay Option, they suggested a maximum Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 1.5 for C-1 and E-1 Zones.  For R-2 and R-3 zones, the maximum would be 1.25 FAR.  Building height for C-1 and E-1 would be 50-feet or four stories.  R-2 and R-3 zones were 42-feet or three stories. 
There were no changes in the landscape area for C-1 and E-1.  It would remain at 15%.  Landscape area for R-2 and R-3 zones was reduced 20 percent.  Open space did not change for C-1 and E-1 zones and was not required for R-2 and R-3. 
There were no changes for C-1 and E-1 regarding building separation.  In R-2 and R-3 zones, it was not required.  Yard setbacks were 15-feet from residential yards for C-1 and E-1 zones.  There would be a 5-foot minimum setback for front yards in R-2 and R-3 zones.  A new requirement was building step backs for side streets within 25-feet of a residential zone.  Any portion of a building over 25 feet must be stepped back 10-feet.  An alternative from the developer roundtable included a combination of articulation, offsets, setback, angles or curves to reduce building mass instead of using a step back.
Parking under the Overlay Option would require one space for units less than 800 sq. ft.  It would provide a three-space off-street parking credit for retail, restaurant, or office.
Other Amendments deleted the requirement for affordable units in C-1 and E-1 for projects with over 10 residential units.  It added a micro-car parking management strategy with a credit of up to 25%.
Next Steps included a public hearing at the City Council meeting on August 7, 2018.
Questions of Staff
Commissioner Mindlin addressed the articulation option for the step back from the developer roundtable discussion.  How would they determine if something articulated was adequate?  Ms. Harris explained initially the requirement where 25% of the façade shall be articulated was in the original draft.  They removed it because it would be difficult to apply.  It would be up to the hearing authority to determine.  It was similar to the detail site review zone that provided offsets or entry alcoves to break up the building mass.  Not all of the Transit Triangle was in the detail site review zone.  The R-2 and R-3 zones would be subject to the residential site review standards and then the few standards included in the transit triangle. 
Commissioner Brown was not sure it would work.  The Transit Triangle was trying to reduce the perception of mass.  Articulation made it opinion based and therefore subjective and difficult for the Commission to make a determination.  It left the City open to appeals.  He was not comfortable replacing the step back with articulation.  Mr. Molnar did not think it was different from developing in the detail site review zone or under the large-scale development standards.  It did not quantify the actual amount of offset.  It had similar standards in terms of using a change of materials.  Ultimately the burden was on the applicant to convince the Commission they tried to reduce building mass.  Commissioner Brown explained it was using mass that made it too subjective.  The standard was in there but for a different purpose.  It could not be done with an objective code statement.  Having a 10-foot step back or range worked.  Chair Pearce agreed.  Commissioner Brown thought it should be removed from 18.3.14(B)(4).  Commissioner Norton suggested using an average for setback and let public comment determine approval.
Staff confirmed the plaza requirement would apply through the detail site review standards.  It counted towards the FAR.
Commissioner Mindlin noted the height definition Definitions. One definition had a 6.5-foot height and another definition showed 7-feet for floor areas.  Ms. Harris clarified the different definitions of floor area were used in different ways.  It was not counting at 6.5.  It counted at the 7-foot maximum permitted floor area because that was the volume measurement for residential historic district buildings.  It counted spaces that could be converted into living space.  The maximum permitted floor area was only used in reference to historic districts.
Chair Pearce wanted to include a reference to the vertical housing ordinance.  Ms. Harris explained the Council would review a draft vertical housing ordinance in August.  Commissioner Norton was not comfortable recommending vertical housing without more information.   Ms. Harris added it was included in Fregonese and Associates’ Ashland Infill Strategies report.  Commissioner Mindlin raised a concern regarding the tax incentive for vertical housing.  Chair Pearce explained it was a state statute that could be implemented in certain areas.  Ms. Harris further explained the City could tailor the zone to the community.  It encouraged development in areas that had languished.  Commissioner Mindlin thought it made sense but it was usually geographic with an overlay zone. 
Public Testimony
Mark Knox/Ashland/Supported the project with small changes.  He addressed the discussion regarding setbacks Commissioner Mindlin and Commissioner Brown had earlier.  The state required the setback to be clear and objective.  He stated he had no financial interest and was speaking from a citizen and planning perspective only.  He referenced the downtown design standards and discussion on having balconies.  It resulted in a standard with illustrations on how it could work and withstand appeals.  He was recently in Tiburon California and was surprised to see roughly 40% of the businesses were closed due to the influx of Amazon.  It was a circumstance that could occur in Ashland.  He suggested the ground floor be 35% commercial in this zone and 65% residential.  He was struggling with the requirement of having residential units as apartments.  It should be a requirement for housing.  Adding impediments could affect financing and construction.  If the units were built as condominiums, they could still be rentals.
Zach Brombacher/Ashland/Moved to Ashland in the 1960s.  People did not think the town could get built up to where it was.  He commented on the overcrowding the infill strategy was having on the town.  He was zoned E-1 in the south part of Ashland.  He wanted to see more jobs created.  Requiring residential units above commercial was not conducive to the light industrial and truck traffic.  Every square foot of his property was worth quite a bit.  Taking away frontage from his land took away money.  He did not support having tall buildings in the area.  He commented on developments receiving discounts and not having to pay local improvement districts (LIDs) due to low-income and senior citizens. 
Ashland was a unique place.  He believed the homes would always be expensive.
Deliberations & Decision
Commissioner Dawkins had an issue requiring the units to be rentals. He understood why the requirement was there but thought Mr. Knox’s point was well taken.  Chair Pearce thought the requirement was problematic.  The units needed to be affordable.  Units could be rented whether they were owned individually or had several owners. 
Commissioner Brown agreed.  It seemed heavy handed.  Ms. Harris explained it was in the original drafts from Fregonese and Associates.  It was an option for someone if they wanted to develop ownership housing.  They could but would be unable to take advantage of the Transit Triangle provisions that included less parking and landscaping and larger buildings.   Commissioner Dawkins thought it would deter development.  Commissioner Mindlin commented it was part of their modeling program.  It provided developers with a financially feasible plan.  Commissioner Dawkins noted at approximately $1,400 a month, the rental costs were not affordable.  Mr. Molnar clarified it was an option to build 30 units an acre at three stories and not be tied to rental or new ownership.  He was curious at the long-term affordability with condominiums.  This option retained the units as rentals and kept rental costs down over the long term.  Chair Pearce observed a single owner would have the same costs as a condominium association.  Ms. Harris explained when Fregonese and Associates modeled the plan they had a rate of return for rental units and ownership units.  In addition, workforce housing was a City Council goal.  Fregonese and Associates looked at the different demographic groups that typically were attracted to different and diverse housing types.  Commissioner Norton added there were different standards for condominiums. Converting apartments to condominiums could reduce the number of units in order to meet the standards.
Commissioner Mindlin thought they should try the plan and readdress it if no development occurred over two years.  Chair Pearce added City Council wanted to encourage more rentals.  He was comfortable keeping it rental.  Commissioner Dawkins thought there would be a couple of councilors who would object to keeping it rental.  Commissioner Norton supported trying it and seeing what happened.
Commissioner Mindlin appreciated Mr. Knox’s suggestion of changing the percentage of commercial versus housing.  Commissioner Brown proposed changing it to 35% commercial and 65% residential.  Ms. Harris noted in the Transit Triangle chapter, it was reduced it to 50-50.  In other areas, it was 65% commercial required on the ground floor.  Chair Pearce agreed with 35% commercial and 65% residential.  Commission Norton suggested reducing commercial further to 25%. 
Commissioner Brown noted strip shopping did not work well and he doubted it would be successful in Ashland.  Having one building with ground floor commercial and offices above might work better.  He was comfortable lowering the percentage of commercial or keeping it the same.  Office space on the ground floor mixed with retail was not conducive to a walking environment.  Other communities banned office space on ground floors.  He liked the concept of the transit district with shopping at the beginning or end node and not sporadic.  He thought the commercial space would remain empty.  Remove the requirement and require a commercial component instead.  
Mr. Molnar explained the Commission could recommend Council review changing the 50-50 to 35% commercial and 65% residential and still meet state requirements.  The Commission supported 35% commercial and 65% residential.  Regarding the step back, Mr. Molnar would add language they were subject to exceptions that were equivalent or better.   
Commissioner Brown/Dawkins m/s to accept the draft plan except for two changes, one to lower the percentage of commercial to residential to 35%-65% and remove the definition of set back and make it an equivalent or better exception.  Roll Call:  Commissioner Dawkins, Brown, Mindlin, Norton, and Pearce, YES.  Motion passed 5-0.
Meeting adjourned at 8:38 p.m.
Submitted by,
Dana Smith, Executive Assistant

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