Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Study Session

Tuesday, November 26, 2002



NOVEMBER 26, 2002



Chair Mike Gardiner called the Study Session to order at 7:45 p.m. Other Commissioners present were John Fields, Kerry KenCairn, Russ Chapman, Marilyn Briggs, Mike Morris, and Ray Kistler. Colin Swales and Alex Amarotico were absent. Staff present were John McLaughlin, Bill Molnar and Sue Yates.


McLaughlin said at the October Regular Meeting, two items were listed under Other Business. The goal was to have the Planning Commission initiate planning actions. They ran out of time at the meeting. At the November meeting, they were brought back but they once again ran out of time. They are housecleaning items that made some sense. Swales, through an e-mail, noted the actions didn’t get the motion from the Commission to initiate the planning actions. That is why they will be discussed at tonight’s meeting as Study Session items. If the Commissioners agree that there is merit to the ordinance amendments, Staff will schedule them for a hearing. The hearing will probably be scheduled for January.


Much of Ashland’s economy and entertainment is centered around theater. Any areas looking for new theaters, require commercial land of the right size to accommodate a theater. E-1 zones are the next areas outside the downtown core. Staff is proposing adding theaters as a Conditional Use in the E-1 zone. Some areas in E-1 are developed differently than others. Some are closer to residential zones than others. It fits in with the overall economic efforts of the community to support the arts.

Chapman said theater is not necessarily described as the building, but what is going on inside the building. Does McLaughlin see any problem in allowing theatrical performances in any building? McLaughlin said theatrical performances would be a Conditional Use. It is the use, not necessarily the structure. Each request would be weighed individually, as a conditional use and whether or not it would be appropriate for the location.

McLaughlin said Brent Thompson, owner of the old Cantwell’s Market, cannot operate a theater. Since this won’t get to the Council until February and not go into effect until March, Staff will have to take action with the Green Room (located on Hersey) out of fairness to all others, and not allow it continue outside the ordinance.

KenCairn said there are a number of venues that have performances/dances. Will they all get stopped until this is resolved? McLaughlin said they have to do that now. Theaters and entertainment uses are not allowed uses in an E-1 zone.

McLaughlin said they want to make it work and still protect the uses in E-1. They are struggling in the interim about the inequity of shutting down some uses and letting others operate.

Fields sees bars as much more problematic than theater as they can operate much later.


BRENT THOMPSON said it looks like we need to re-work what is permitted in E-1. How can we avoid closing the existing theaters? Thompson referred to Section 18.40.B - permitted uses - "stores, shops and offices supplying commodities or performing services..." He is asking the Commission, until this ordinance is re-worded, that one service that can be performed is the service of entertainment. Even though it is a bit of a leap, he believes it still makes sense under this definition as an interim interpretation.

McLaughlin said they can’t do an interpretation like that. There is another process for interpreting to that level. There is also evidence in here countering and questioning that effort and approach. Staff will use their best discretion in following through with enforcement.

Secondly, Thompson asked the Commission that when this section gets re-written, that they make performing arts a permitted use or special permitted use. All these non-profit groups have boards to deal with and fund-raising to do. If there is a way the Planning Department can give a "thumbs up or down" or if the request hits a threshold of size that it might have a public hearing, but otherwise be permitted? The reality of non-profit, is that it is very hard to get anything going.

Chapman is concerned that it seems there is a great deal of urgency to get something simple passed. If we go Thompson’s route it could lengthen the process. McLaughlin said even though there is a sense of urgency, there is timeline that is fairly lengthy. The language can be modified even as the hearings come forward.

Thompson wondered if this is a situation where certain properties should be rezoned.

Thompson mentioned that laundromats are not permitted in an E-1 zone. McLaughlin said they could look at that as a special permitted use.

NICOLE ISAACSON, co-artistic director of Art Attack Theater, stated that this will very directly affect them. They have already started a Conditional Use Permit application and are hoping to submit it by the December deadline so they can get going on opening their theater. She is even more concerned that the prospect of other places being used as theaters might get shut down. Without passage of this ordinance soon, there is concern about the future of Art Attack. They are a volunteer organization. Their sole purpose is to provide cultural opportunities for the people of Ashland. Aside from offering plays, they offer teen workshops, writing workshops, lighting workshops, and benefit shows. The theater would not operate late into the night. They chose the old Cantwell’s Market for a space because it is close to the center of Ashland and provides parking.

McLaughlin said Staff will work to find a way to legally move this ordinance forward. They could possibly do something with a Type I for a temporary use. At the same time, it is important to hear all the voices in the community on this amendment.

Fields moved to direct Staff to initiate an ordinance amendment to make theaters a Conditional Use in an E-1 zone. KenCairn seconded the motion and everyone approved.


McLaughlin said the floor area ratios were adopted in 1991 to establish minimums. They were trying to get buildings of a minimum size to be in scale. They also added a part that said if the building is not quite big enough to meet the minimum .35 FAR, the outside plaza areas could be counted. This would be a way to get pedestrian spaces built. Overall, it has been pretty successful. The maximum of .5 was set. What Staff has found, as the ordinance has been implemented, is that the limitation of the .5 FAR, including all floors, (half the lot area) can be limiting. The Historic District was excluded when this was written. We are now seeing in the Historic District, two-story buildings with apartments upstairs on small lots with shared parking in the back. The FAR’s are in the .7 or .8 range if not higher. Lot size can be affected by it when we require alleys. On A Street, the back-up spaces for the parking spaces are on public right-of-way. What you would normally find on a typical building lot is the footprint and the parking required with the back-up spaces and the driving area in between the parking spaces, and some landscaping. We are encouraging smaller lots and trying to get the second story development. What we are finding now is that unless we are very creative in the ordinance, we are inhibiting two-story development of mixed uses. McLaughlin said we want to have a minimum. They have found, however, that the upper limits are governed already by landscaping, parking and height requirements. The maximum FAR has not served us well. The ultimate design goals are inhibited by the current FAR.

BILL STREET, 180 Meade Street, said his goal is to keep Ashland similar to the way it is today. When he hears of a limit of 50 percent being changed to no limit, it sounds like a dramatic change. He is concerned there are some lots where we might get big buildings. He believes it would be good to see all the places in town where this could be applied. Do we want to give up landscaping for more building? It seems this could be connected to the big box discussion. By allowing this, will we be attracting larger corporations? He wants the Commission to look at the far-reaching implications of this change.

KenCairn, who has worked with this, said the current FAR does not allow you to build buildings the way for which the area was planned. When you start playing with the numbers and space, you get restricted really fast.

Kistler said he can’t seem to get a building to get to half the size of the lot due to the parking requirement. KenCairn said if there is underground parking, you put a maximum FAR on it and it is solved.

JEROME WHITE, said he did an analysis of the buildings on A Street between Fourth and Sixth Streets. What has developed is roughly from .6 to .8. Those lots have the benefit of the parking not backing into the public right-of-way. He’s looked at the buildings across the railroad tracks and he is finding it difficult, given the parking constraints to go beyond about 74 percent FAR. He sees that most of the lots cannot develop beyond that. Parking will dictate the size of the buildings. He would like to see the pattern on A Street continued across the railroad tracks. He wouldn’t want to see it much denser. He took the remaining 20 acres of land and if we are wanting to do mixed use, there is a potential loss of about 100 housing units on the second level if we are held to 50 percent.

Fields said once the lot gets bigger than 40,000 square feet, there is a possibility of underground parking. Is it uncomfortable at that point?

BRENT THOMPSON wondered if we should do additional thinking about credit for on-street parking and diagonal parking. He would like to see diagonal parking on B Street.

RUSS DALE believes there is a need to see this ordinance change happen so he can move ahead with some creative building. He needs as much air space in the building as possible.

Briggs moved to initiate an ordinance amendment and take into consideration this discussion. Chapman seconded the motion and everyone favored.

ADJOURNMENT - The meeting was adjourned at 9:00 p.m.







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