Rules governing land use updated

Ordinance heads to second reading despite concerns over building height changes

By Thomas Moriarty
Ashland Daily Tidings

Posted Dec. 10, 2014 at 8:12 PM
Updated Dec 11, 2014 at 1:08 PM

A new Ashland land use ordinance that would, among other changes, increase the maximum height of commercial buildings under permit seems likely to pass Tuesday, Dec. 16, despite a dissenting vote at its first City Council reading Dec. 2.
The “restated and revised unified land use ordinance” would replace and revise existing land use standards under Title 18 of the Ashland Municipal Code and combine them into one document. Among those changes are an amendment to building height restrictions that would change the allowable extension under a conditional-use permit from 40 feet, or three stories, to 55 feet. It would also allow parapets to extend up to five feet above the maximum building height in commercial and employment zones, rather than the current three feet allowed.
Councilor Carol Voison was the sole dissenting vote, saying she feared allowing an increase in the height in the city’s commercial zones would destroy Ashland’s carefully cultivated small town feel.
“Increasing the height of our commercial area is really going to change the look of our downtown,” Voison said. “My opposition to this has a great deal to do with how this would make our town look.”
Voison also raised concerns about whether the Ashland Fire Department’s existing apparatus would be able to reach up to an additional floor in the event of a structure fire.
Councilor Rich Rosenthal, though voting in support of the first reading, said he shared Voison’s concerns about the fire safety issues, and hoped the council would be able to balance those concerns when considering land use policy changes in the future.
Councilors Mike Morris and Greg Lemhouse said they didn’t think the safety aspect of any height increase was as much of an issue as it was being made out to be.
“I think I said before that I think a modern building at 55 feet is safer than an older building at 40 feet,” Morris said.
Lemhouse described the height issue as inevitable given the city’s planning history.
“It’s important for us to recognize that this building height issue is what happens when you adopt a really strong infill policy, which we have,” he said. “I don’t think we can go halfway on one (and not the other).”
A second reading of the ordinance is expected at the council’s Dec. 16 meeting.
Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at [email protected]. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

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