Jacksonville considers streamlined planning

JACKSONVILLE — Putting up a sign anywhere in town or building a house outside the historic district now requires a hearing before a commission. But applications would need only a simple approval from planning staff if a new code is enacted.

The Planning Commission heard a presentation about proposed rule changes during a study session Wednesday evening as the city moves toward adoption by the City Council.

Designed to replace what some have called subjective regulations, the draft represents a year of work on the code. Perceptions exist that it is hard to build or do business in Jacksonville, commissioners and staff said during the session.

"If there are clear and objective standards, it's easier for a planner or a city commission to do their jobs," said City Planner Amy Stevenson. "Right now the criteria are so subjective it's difficult for the staff and (commissions) to know what you should and shouldn't approve."

A model code developed by the state to assist small cities was used as a framework for creating the draft, which would become Title 16 of the city's municipal codes. Objective standards are stressed in the model code.

"If you can make objective decisions, you don't have to have land-use decisions," said Alan Harper, the city's attorney for planning matters. In his private practice, Harper has represented people seeking to develop in Jacksonville.

"We are looking for input so this thing works seamlessly," said Harper.

The Planning Commission and the Historic and Architectural Review Commission will hold a joint study session at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 18, at Old City Hall, 205 W. Main St., to consider Article 5 of Title 16, which covers the Historic District Overlay.

Additional study sessions will be held, and a public hearing on the new code is tentatively planned for November. Both commissions will make recommendations on adoption to City Council. Stevenson said she'd like to see the council consider the changes in December.

Oregon's model code does not address town historic districts, leaving it up to municipalities to develop their own criteria for designated areas. State Historic Preservation Office staff assisted Jacksonville with development of this code section.

A $14,400 state Certified Local Government Grant helped pay for development of the draft, including Harper's work and a hired writer. A focus group with representative from both commissions also gave input.

The new standards would cut down on the amount of time staff must spend preparing documentation for commission hearings, said Stevenson. Applications would fall into one of four categories.

Stevenson could, for example, approve a Type 1 request such as placing a sign while standing at the counter if the applicant brings in a plan and design that conform to code regulations and pays a $60 fee.

Stevenson could also approve a Type 2 application, but nearby property owners would be notified of the action and given the chance to appeal a decision.

Type 3 and 4 requests, which require the highest levels of review, would be for legislative issues such as zone changes or regulation adoption.

Among other proposed changes:

  • Planned Unit Developments, currently limited to certain parts of town, could be built anywhere if the proposals meet new code criteria.
  • Existing planning codes are spread over three sections. They would all be combined in Title 16.
  • Standard Industrial Classification Code, a national standard, would govern commercial and retail uses. Current codes merely say such uses are permitted in certain areas but doesn't spell out any prohibitions.

"It's pretty wide open right now," Stevenson said of commercial regulation.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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