Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Planning & Council Joint Study Session

Tuesday, June 25, 2002





JUNE 25, 2002

CALL TO ORDER - Planning Commission Chair Mike Gardiner called the meeting to order at 7:10 p.m. Other Commissioners present were Mike Morris, Ray Kistler, Russ Chapman, Kerry KenCairn, Alex Amarotico, Marilyn Briggs, Colin Swales, and John Fields. Mayor Alan DeBoer was present along with Councilors Don Laws, Susan Reid, Chris Hearn, John Morrison, Kate Jackson and Cate Hartzell. There were no absent members. Staff present were John McLaughlin, Bill Molnar, Mark Knox, Maria Harris and Sue Yates.

PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE BIG BOX ORDINANCE - McLaughlin said after reviewing the OSF application, the Council directed Staff to come back with some ordinance amendments to clarify the ordinance to match up with what the Council had as their interpretation. When it got back to the Council there were some concerns raised that needed to be looked at more in depth.

McLaughlin has outlined the process in the packet of materials sent to the Commission and Council. This is the first meeting in the process. We will be trying to identify what the issues are that everyone is concerned with. Based on tonightís discussion, Staff will take the suggestions tonight and come back in August for another study session. There will be a final joint study session in September. The hearing before the Planning Commission will be scheduled for November and the City Council in December.

McLaughlin gave a Power Point presentation showing various photos of buildings reflecting how the words in the Site Design and Use Standards apply to what gets built on the ground. He gave square footages of buildings to help the Commission and Council visualize the size of buildings.

McLaughlin said currently the ordinances that apply are primarily in the Site Design and Use Standards governing new commercial and light industrial development. There are basic Site Review standards that apply to all development. The Detailed Site Review standards apply within specific Detailed Site Review Zones. The zones are primarily along the commercial corridors and the railroad property. It is a higher level of review generally with building design and orientation and layout. The next level is Large Scale Development Standards. There is also a large section of the Site Design and Use Standards outlining specific standards to the Downtown.

The key part of the big box ordinance reads: "No new building or contiguous groups of buildings in the Detailed Site Review Zone shall exceed a gross square footage of 45,000 square feet or combined contiguous building length of 300 feet". Neither are subject to variances.

What is gross square footage? The Council has interpreted that to mean the footprint of the building. Gross floor area is the sum of the different floors of the building.

The Plaza buildings from the Parkview building to the lower end of the Plaza are contiguous; they are touching. The Council interpreted that contiguous means "touching". Those buildings have 37,000 square feet of footprint. There is about 70,000 square feet of floor area. Under todayís standards, this would be allowable because it would be under 45,000 square feet. The frontage, however, is 370 feet so it is longer than allowed.

Most cities use gross floor area as a measurement. Some measure outdoor storage too. In some communities they were looking at bulk and scale. How does it relate to the urban fabric around it?

McLaughlin said the 45,000 square feet seems to be a big question: footprint or gross floor area. Is there some other limit that should apply? Are there additional standards necessary? What about the downtown? His recollection from talks several years ago is that the downtown was excluded. He believes we have adequate standards throughout the downtown to handle new development.

Jackson asked what the height limitations are. McLaughlin said 40 feet in commercial and 35 feet in the downtown. Gardiner asked how height relates to slope. McLaughlin said itís the average grade.

Swales wondered what the difference would be if a property is in the Historic District. McLaughlin said the floor area ratios are a minimum of .35 in a commercial zone and a maximum of .5 except in the Historic District because the pattern tends to be more intense in the Historic District.

McLaughlin reiterated the Council has interpreted contiguous to mean touching. The ordinance requires that contiguous buildings can be 45,000 square feet. If they are not contiguous, you have to be separated by the height of the tallest building. If the front of the building is 240 feet, it is separated by at least 60 feet. The idea is that you create buildings with a rhythm that is similar to what you see in commercial blocks.

Hartzell asked about the Staff Exhibit S-2, page 22, Staff Draft #1. McLaughlin said this was the draft of the original. Some changes were made to it. He inserted this because he wanted to show the Council that they were excepting the C-1-D standards originally. He thinks excepting C-1-D was inadvertently dropped during the revisions that took place.

Reid confirmed McLaughlinís memory. After working on this for over a year, everyone knew they werenít talking about the downtown because the downtown plan was the guiding principle for the downtown. This ordinance was for those commercial areas outside the downtown.

Jackson thought if we donít exclude the downtown from the footprint square foot limit, we wonít have the flexibility downtown that we want.

KenCairn said that one of the questions they are being asked is if we are going to do this according to footprint or according to gross area. If you combine the footprints of the New Theater and the parking structure, it is less than 45,000 square feet. Why was there a requirement to put in the walkway? Was it because it was undefined whether it was footprint or gross area? Is Staff now suggesting it should be footprint? McLaughlin said it was the Councilís interpretation.

Hartzell said what if, for example, there is a square block. How deep could the buildings be if there was an open space in the middle and still stay within 45,000 square feet? Amarotico said 45 feet. It could probably be three stories high.

Briggs believes the ability to expand 15 percent in area or length beyond 1992, is language that leaves it wide open. McLaughlin said that language was in because of Bi-Mart. That was our local business we all liked. We didnít want to preclude them from being able to do a little to bit in order to maintain their position in the community and their competitive spot. A building can expand 15 percent beyond their 1992 area or length. They only get that.

Lawsí inclination is to go along with the intent of the big box ordinance that was to apply to other than the downtown. Refine it as appropriate for the areas outside the downtown. A second step we might want to do is to review the site patterns that apply for downtown only and see if there is anything in our big box ordinance that we have developed that we would want to add to the site review for downtown. We may also want to review tightening up the variance procedure.

Hearn said the kind of projects that people think of discouraging seem to require a sea of parking. The design standards that are currently in effect downtown, coupled with the necessity of the sea of parking, make it impossible to do a reprehensible project downtown.

The problem Swales has is with the new parking structure in the downtown. It was exempt from any downtown design standards and not classified as a parking lot and got away from the landscaping requirements. Parking structures can be as big as one likes. Now we want to exempt them from any size limits providing they meet the requirements of bulk and scale. It seems like a hole in the ordinance.


DAVID LANE said he was very much a part of the discussions in working on the current ordinance in 1991 and 1992. At that time, there was a strong intent to maintain a harmony of development within Ashland. There was a great deal of concern Wal-Mart would come here. The term "gross square footage", to the best of his memory, did in fact refer not to the footprint but to the total of the floor areas. That would seem to be in keeping with the other communities. He said if the Commission and Council use the term "footprint", it makes it difficult to decide what is part of the building and what is not.

Lane believes with regard to measuring interior space vs. exterior space, it is easier to measure exterior space.

ERIC NAVIKAS noticed that McLaughlin consistently avoided the term "gross square footage" in his presentation and inserted the word "total". The ordinance is very clear. It states "gross square footage". This shows we are clearly trying to manipulate language to distort the ordinance to promote larger scale development in the city. He believes this ordinance allows buildings to be contiguous. The downtown is the most important in considering overscaled buildings. OSF set a precedent that we will accept parking garages. Large scale parking garages and hotels can destroy the character of the downtown because they become the dominant building type. He believes this ordinance prevents that. It tries to work toward small-scale buildings.

PHILIP LANG, 758 B Street, said there has been a violation of the ordinances by the Planning Commission and City Council. The ordinance clearly states 45,000 square feet is allowed for new buildings, not footprints. When OSF was built, there was a reinterpretation of the ordinance. It is a clear ordinance and a good ordinance that needs enforcement.


Reid again stated the big box ordinance was not intended to apply to the downtown. She would like to separate the downtown from the rest the ordinances; one for the downtown and one for the rest of the community.

Swales agrees with Reid. It seems that even though the big box ordinance is not the way to deal with the downtown, to exempt the downtown from 45,000 square feet seems completely insane. It seems that many of the downtown design standards and the big box ordinance apply to the downtown.

Fields wondered what this ordinance even means. He believes it has been basically overruled since it was brought before them.

KenCairn said if you calculate a footprint and calculate a gross floor area, then the problem is solved.

Knox thinks every block in the downtown now would be somewhat non-conforming. What if Ashland Camera wanted to add a second story? Do we want to preclude that? Donít forget to look at the Downtown Design Standards adopted a few years ago. Buildings designed from lot line to lot line require a lot of vertical and horizontal deviations very similar to the other buildings in the downtown.

McLaughlin said the downtown standards are almost entirely focused on creating a storefront look and designed around retail and second story spaces. What do you do when you come up with a use such as a theater? You donít make a theater look like a store. You have to have a relief valve. Some things donít fit, but is important in the mix of the downtown. Parking is an important issue in the downtown. The city has taken on the burden of providing for our downtown so we can get a good commercial environment along our streets. All the standards donít apply perfectly. As KenCairn said, do we look at gross floor area, do we look at a footprint, or look at a combination. What do you want to accomplish? Some uses will require looking at a footprint. Grocery stores are single level uses and they are important to our community. There is a balance where basic services are not excluded where we all end up driving to Medford for those services.

Laws suggested looking at all the buildings that have conformed. There are far more that have conformed than have gotten exceptions. We need to get down to the basic issues of what we want for the future of Ashland. Letís draw up changes in the standards as clear an unequivocal as possible with clear guidelines. What do we mean by contiguous buildings? Do we want contiguous buildings? Do we want them in the downtown? Do we want to stick with 45,000 square feet? Do we want to count the footprint or square footage of the whole building? Do we want to apply both to the downtown and other zones?

Swales said there has been a lot of confusion with contiguous groups of buildings with regard to downtown. All we need to sort this out is where it says "no new buildings or contiguous buildings", to make it especially clear by saying "no new buildings or new contiguous groups of buildings". That would get around the fact that the downtown buildings under separate ownership built at different times arenít contiguous buildings but separate buildings. The only other thing is to redefine gross square footage as gross floor area at 45,000 square feet. That can be done either in a smaller footprint on multi-stories or a large 45,000 footprint on one story.

McLaughlin said Staff can put something together from the comments tonight for the next meeting. He understands the variety of issues.

Fields said he thinks we need a redo of what our parking structure solutions are going to be.

ZONE CHANGE AND ANNEXATION CHANGES RELATED TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING - Molnar said the Housing Commission has, over the past several months, been looking at changes to the approval standards that currently apply to zone changes and annexations. The stimulus came from the request to rezone the Croman mill site (65 ac. industrial site). There was a zone change request that would rezone about 60 percent residential. The applicant met with the Housing Commission a number of times to discuss an interest of providing affordable housing in the project. There was a difference in opinion what Staff and the Housing Commission felt affordable housing meant for the project versus what the applicant thought it meant. It seemed there was a necessity to clarify that in the ordinance.

The housing needs analysis was recently completed. The study solidified what was felt to be an affordable housing crisis in Ashland. The Action Plan is due to be completed in September of 2002.

Tonight we are looking at a land use strategy or code provisions that encourage developers to produce affordable housing. Generally, the provisions are voluntary. The state legislature about three years ago passed a rule prohibiting inclusionary zoning.

The ordinance focuses on zone changes. The intended results of the proposed amendments would make the public need for affordable housing explicit in the zone change criteria. Currently, it is fairly subjective. If an applicant is specifically requesting a zone change based on providing affordable housing, letís define what that is. It would make it easier for an applicant to receive approval for an application for a zone change that has a positive impact on affordable housing. It sets specific affordable targets for applications. A new provision is that the affordable housing that is provided is required to be guaranteed by a deed restriction for a period of 60 years.

Where would these amendments apply? A zone change application involving an increase in residential density from one residential zoning designation to another. It would apply in certain commercial zones through the provision of a residential overlay. Molnar gave the example Tara Labs requested as part of their application to build their building on Clover Lane, a zone change for a residential overlay so they could anticipate building around six or seven units at the back of the property potentially for employees and increased security at night.

Where are the code language specifics? Twenty-five percent of the units would be available to renters or buyers at 80 percent of the median area income. It allows the development to obtain a density bonus for the provision of affordable housing but not to exceed an increase beyond 15 percent of the maximum allowable density.

Another provision for meeting the affordable housing is to build 15 percent of the units for buyers or renters with household incomes that do not exceed 60 percent of the median area income.

The Housing Commission has grappled with the third provision. A developer could dedicate an amount of land to a non-profit housing development or comparable development corporation for the purpose of complying with the amendments above.

There is code language that effects the commercial properties that are seeking to do residential development in conjunction with commercial. The provisions above would remain the same. In addition, they would have to demonstrate that the zone change would not negatively impact the cityís inventory of commercial and industrial land.

The Planning Commission will review these changes at the July meeting. As Staff has thought about these changes, there could be some potential unintended consequences of the changes. Are households we are targeting too low at 60 to 80 percent? Given some of the findings from the Needs Analysis, there is a fairly large gap in the 75 to 125 percent of area median.

Could the changes discourage smaller mixed-use projects? Low-income housing is more difficult to accommodate in smaller market rate projects. Molnar referred to Tara Labs project again. Could the proposed changes be a deterrent? We already have a lot of policies in place that encourage mixed use.

The main changes to the annexation criteria is whatever affordable housing target levels we establish for zone changes would be consistent in the annexation criteria.

Kistler said he doesnít think it seems the annexation of property into the city needs a carrot. The annexation itself is a windfall. Molnar said the proposed changes reduce the carrot to some degree. Currently, while you have to do affordability, you get an equal percentage of density bonus. Kistler said the surrounding neighbors might want it to be the same density. He hopes we can come up with other incentives to provide affordable housing besides the density bonus.

Molnar said the density bonus options will represent a minor impact on the whole affordable housing issue. We havenít had a request from a developer to density increase for affordable housing in over four years.

Molnar said in a recent study, it did not link land supply as a major component to affordable housing issues. Lack of affordability is mainly linked to the market demand brought about by the factors that make a community desirable such as education, historic resources, downtown core, etc. In looking at the list, Ashland has them all.

Swales likes the idea of the 60-year lock-in. He would like to see it incorporated into the normal density bonuses.

DAVID LANE said he thought the median house price in Ashland is well above $200,000. Looking at the figures, families would probably have to have an $80,000 income to be able buy a house. There are a number of folks that are above the figures of 60 to 80 percent that still canít afford to buy a home here. He would suggest, especially our own city employees, are in that group. If we approve looking only at the 60 and 80 percent level, and doing nothing for those above that, we are shutting out a whole group of desirable people from being able to buy here. He urged the Council and Commission to keep what is here but somehow find a way to increase levels because there is certainly a need.

Lane mentioned Section D. as confusing. Rounding up fractional units is too complicated. There should be an easier way to state that.

Lane wondered who would monitor and enforce the 60-year period of time.

Molnar said Portland has been doing this and they have legal agreements. Any time a property comes up for sale, the City of Ashland would be notified.

Morrison wondered how many affordable units the new provisions would create. Molnar said in the 12 years since weíve had the annexation provisions, we have produced 33 units. He doesnít anticipate producing very many.

JULY PLANNING COMMISSION AGENDA - The agenda is very full for both the Hearings Board and Regular Meeting. The Commissioners needs to be efficient and focused.

ADJOURMENT - The meeting was adjourned at 9:30 p.m.













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