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Hillside housing standards clear another hurdle

ASHLAND -- The City Council is one step away from tightening developmentstandards for hillside houses, but opponents hinted Wednesday that theyhave not spoken their last.

The council voted unanimously after a three-hour session to advance themuch-debated ordinance to final approval at its next meeting Dec. 2. Butthe council was divided on key provisions.

Some of the most important things that ever happened in Ashlandcame about because of controversies, Mayor Cathy Golden said.

If the council approves it, opponents could gather signatures to referit to voters or take it to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

They are not the last opportunities; there is also an opportunityfor people to experience hardship under it and see how well they like it,said Wendie Kellington, a Portland lawyer and former assistant Jackson Countycounsel who represents the Rogue Valley Association of Realtors. LetAshland experience it. Maybe they will like it.

Wednesday's continuation of a public hearing was dominated by opponents,including letters from the Oregon Building Industry Association and theproperty-rights group Oregonians in Action.

In a preview of a potential legal challenge, Kellington argued that theordinance would reduce the city's amount of buildable land for housing.City officials replied that the drop in potential hillside houses wouldbe small, from 415 to 382, and there are potential sites citywide for 1,674more homes.

Kellington and other opponents said there was no justification for reducingthe maximum buildable slope from 40 to 35 percent or for the proposed standardsfor building location and design.

John McLaughlin, the city's director of community development, likenedthe change in the buildable slope to a speed limit. You can drive90 mph, but we set 65 mph as a limit because we know it's safer, hesaid.

Bob Gantenbein, a Portland engineer also representing the Realtors, saidproper engineering can overcome potential problems.

It's my experience that the Ashland building department is fullof people who know what to do to address this issue, said Gantenbein,who once worked in Southern Oregon. I think the tools are alreadyin our hands.

Councilman Steve Hauck's motion to keep the more restrictive 35-percentlimit on buildable slopes passed, 4-2. Council members Alan DeBoer and SusanReid dissented.

The council voted unanimously to increase the proposed maximum hillsidebuilding height from 30 to 35 feet. But on a tie vote, it defeated a proposedchange in how that height would be measured. DeBoer, Reid and Don Laws favoredthe change; Hauck, Ken Hagen and Carole Wheeldon opposed it.

Under the ordinance as written, the height is measured from the naturalgrade to the uppermost point of the roof edge or other feature perpendicularto that grade. The change would have allowed measurement to the midpointbetween the eave and peak of the roof.

On another tie vote, the council declined to drop a section that affectscolors of new hillside houses. DeBoer, Laws and Reid favored the deletion.But the vote added language to clarify that it is optional for homeownersto consult with the city about colors of new houses.

It is recommended that color selection for new structures shouldbe coordinated with the predominant colors of the surrounding landscapeto minimize contrast between the structure and the natural environment,the section says.

Golden can vote to break ties. But on several of Wednesday's votes, shecited a potential conflict of interest because she owns hillside propertythat would be affected. Her abstentions had the effect of defeating themotions.

The advisory language also applies to roof forms, roof lines, gablesand overhanging decks. Less controversial sections tighten standards fordrainage, erosion and vegetation control.

Laws said later that what bothered him most was the uncivil tone of thedebate, particularly at Tuesday's council hearing with 25 supporters andopponents.

There are some `no-growthers' and `selfish developers' in thiscommunity, Laws said. But 90 percent of the people participatingin this debate are somewhere in the middle. We are forcing them to go toextremes -- and I think that is wrong.

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