Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Planning Commission Study Session

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


November 24, 2015
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
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor
Absent Members:   Council Liaison:
None   Greg Lemhouse, absent
Community Development Director Bill Molnar provided an update on the upcoming City Council and Planning Commission meetings. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the marijuana ordinance on December 1; the Planning Commissionís annual presentation is scheduled for January 4, and in March the Council will have a study session to evaluate the Citizensí Planning Advisory Committee. Regarding the Planning Commission, Mr. Molnar stated there are two public hearings scheduled for the next meeting, and the December study session has been canceled.
No one came forward to speak.
  1. Development Standards for Wildfire Lands Ordinance Amendments.
Community Development Director Bill Molnar gave a brief overview of the proposed changes to the Wildfire Lands Ordinance. He explained State Planning Goal #7 requires cities to look at hazard areas and develop policies and codes to address them, and stated this would be a significant update that would take the existing Wildfire Lands overlay zone and apply it citywide. Mr. Molnar stated there are a number of issues to work through, including potential conflicts with other sections of the municipal code, and stated staff has some concerns with how the proposed changes will impact smaller lots, multifamily properties, and commercial designations. He noted this is still in the working draft stage and once the final draft is prepared the city will be required to notice every property owner in Ashland.  
Senior Planner Brandon Goldman commented on the existing standards and reviewed the three fuel break types and requirements. He explained in April 2014 staff was directed by the City Council to explore an expansion of the wildfire lands boundary and stated under the current draft properties subject to site review (commercial and multifamily) would need to have a fire prevention and control plan, and all new construction and construction that expands a structure by more than 200 sq.ft. would have to meet the fuel break requirements around the property. Mr. Goldman stated Planning staff is working with the Ashland Fire Department to develop clear and objective standards, and noted there are a number of discussion points provided in the packet materials to assist the commission with their discussion.
Forest Division Chief Chris Chambers addressed the commission and stated this update is needed to protect life and property, firefighter safety, the watershed, and Ashlandís quality of life. He explained wildfires occur throughout the city and have led to loss of property, and despite the Firewise program highly flammable vegetation continues to be planted throughout town. Mr. Chambers presented photos and information on several of the fires that have occurred in town, and commented on a fire that occurred in Wenatchee where embers traveled 1.5 miles and ignited their warehouse district causing substantial damage.
Mr. Chambers was asked whether a tree could be within 10 ft. of a structure and he responded that they would want the limbs trimmed and pruned to the 10 ft. distance. When asked if bushes could be placed next to a porch, he was uncertain if this would be permitted.   
Fire Marshal Margueritte Hickman stated this ordinance would take the requirements being enforced in the wildfire lands zone and expand it throughout the city, but as long as property owners do not expand or improve their structure, they can continue to plant and maintain non-fire resistant materials. Mr. Chambers stated they have done a lot of research and it is time to start making progress on this issue, and stated tackling new construction seems like a reasonable approach to this issue.  
The commission asked several questions of the Fire Department staff, including:
  • Will properties continue to be inspected? Ms. Hickman responded that their intent is to inspect properties every 3-5 years to ensure they are maintaining compliance with the standards.
  • Would the health of non-fire resilient trees factor into the importance of their removal? Ms. Hickman stated dead trees are required to be removed, and they would advocate for the removal of less healthy trees first. She stated the intent is to reduce canopies and have 10 ft. of clearance between non-fire resilient trees. Mr. Goldman noted staff has concerns with the how the canopy spacing requirements would be adjusted to account for slope, and stated such provisions for canopy and shrub spacing would limit landscape design options on single family properties with limited yard areas, and would be specifically problematic in the application of existing landscaping requirements on commercial and multifamily properties (such as parking lot screening and buffering requirements).
  • Does the 3 ft. of a structure prohibition refer to plantings or canopy? Mr. Chambers stated they will need to determine whether to allow fire resistant plants and materials in this zone. He stated his preference would be for plantings to not touch the structure and to regulate ground cover, and recommended lava rock be used instead of bark next to buildings.  
  • What is a fire resistant plant? Mr. Chambers responded any plant that is not on the prohibited list. He stated fire resistant plants hold more moisture, donít drop a lot of leaves or needles, and typically do not have a lot of oils or wax. Mr. Goldman stated staff will be working on defining these and it may be simpler to list what you canít plant instead of what you can. He added the plant list will come back as a separate resolution.
  • Will the ordinance allow homeowners to plant privacy screens? Mr. Chambers stated there are different plant materials that could be used, however Mr. Goldman stated further discussion is needed on whether plants could be placed next to each other to get the height and width needed to create a buffer.
  • Most of the tree canopies downtown are within 10 ft. of a structure, what will be the allowance for street trees? Mr. Chambers stated the individual street trees downtown are not a likely threat to those structures.
The commissioners shared their thoughts on the draft ordinance. Commissioner Dawkins stated that while he understands what the Fire Department is trying to accomplish, he is not comfortable with an ordinance requiring these things as opposed to recommendations. He added it is more about how things are maintained as opposed to the plant itself. Commissioner Thompson commented on the need to balance the Fire Departmentís goals with the realities of living in an environment where things grow and people want landscaping around them. She expressed concern with item D(4) and stated in many situations this would lead to the removal of the trees, and asked if any vegetation would be allowed within three feet of a structure. Mr. Chambers stated they will likely go back to the drawing board with this requirement and allow fire resistant plants and materials within 3 ft. of a structure. Ms. Thompson noted the deer problem and stated under this ordinance the few plants that are deer resistant would no longer be allowed. Commissioner Mindlin stated there are competing goals and purposes and while she understands the fire prevention goal there are many other goals the city has. She cited the cityís water wise landscaping program and stated widely spaced plants with no mulch is counter to this program. Mindlin questioned what other policies the city has that contradict with this proposal and stated more work needs to be done before this will be ready for the City Council and acceptable to citizens. She mentioned staffing issues and questioned instead of increasing staff to administer this ordinance, could there be a better way to use that money that would achieve the stated goal. Commissioner Brown agreed with needing to find a balance. He voiced support for the goal but stated they need to find a happy medium. He added the draft ordinance does not allow them to live in the community they want to live in. Commissioner Pearce questioned why the ordinance is triggered by development and whether this would be fair and effective. He commented that it could take a long time for many of the lots in Ashland to expand, and stated this ordinance would create a hardship for those it does effect and could be a great expense for something that does not add a lot of fire risk. Commissioner Thompson suggested they start with an educational and incentive program that targets the entire city to eliminate the major risks. Mr. Chambers commented that they have embraced education and outreach for many years but have reached the limit of what they can accomplish with these methods. Commissioner Norton asked if there is an appeal process and asked staff to provide samples of what these requirements would look like on existing properties. He also commented that there will likely be a lot of additional issues that come forward once the public hearings begin. Ms. Hickman thanked the commission for their input and acknowledged that what they are proposing is different and may represent a shift in the communityís values.
  1. Review and Approve Planning Commission Recommendation on Marijuana Cultivation and Businesses Ordinance.
Community Development Director Bill Molnar noted the ordinance and draft recommendations have been presented to the City Council but if the commission has changes a revised report can be submitted at the next meeting. Commissioner Thompson requested clarification about cultivation in E1 and M1 zones and stated it was her understanding that commercial grows could not be located outdoors. Mr. Molnar concurred that this was the intent.
Support was voiced for the recommendation as presented.
Meeting adjourned at 9:15 p.m.
Submitted by,
April Lucas, Administrative Supervisor


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