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Planners deadlock on pact

A divided Planning Commission spent about two hours weighing whether to enter into a regional planning agreement at its Tuesday meeting, touching only briefly on an agenda item regarding changing the sign code.

Some commissioners feared signing the agreement would subject the city to the rule of the county in some land-use matters and others argued the agreement would give the city a say in how neighboring cities address sprawl and open space.

After listening to comments from three locals — who all spoke against signing the agreement — the commission voted 4-4 to recommend that the City Council sign the document.

"I've had big problems with the plan all along," said Commission Chair Michael Dawkins, who cast a "no" vote. "And I'm enough of an anti-federalist to be skeptical of signing or agreeing to an agreement that takes a lot of the power away."

Commissioners Tom Dimitre, Debbie Miller and Melanie Mindlin also voted against signing the document.

However, Commissioner Mike Morris said he voted for the agreement to encourage countywide cooperation in land-use planning.

"I think we have to go in upfront and say, 'This is where we want to go' and push that energy in to the county," he said. "If we're going to insist that we go our own way, then they have every right to go their own way."

The City Council will have the final say at a later meeting.

The commission is down one tie-breaking member since Mayor John Stromberg left his post as commission chair to assume his present position. Dawkins, who previously served as the commission vice chair, has procedurally become the new commission chair until April, when the commission will officially select a chairperson.

According to the city, the Greater Bear Creek Valley Regional Problem Solving Agreement would allow area cities to work together to plan for population growth while trying to prevent urban sprawl and save farmland.

But the document contains some confusing language that made some commissioners believe that if the city signed the document, it would be legally bound by the final plan, which is not yet completed.

Richard Appicello, the city attorney, said by signing the agreement, the city would be "submitting the draft plan through the county planning process." The city would then be required to comply with the outcome of that process, unless it appealed the decision, he said.

City staff members recommended that the commission approve the agreement and Appicello cautioned commissioners about not approving the document at the meeting.

"In the past if the city of Ashland did not participate in what was going on around us and we kind of lost out," he said.

Former city councilor Cate Hartzell, who is helping to create the regional plan, also urged the commission to approve the agreement at the meeting. On the contrary, City Councilor Eric Navickas said he was wary of moving into the agreement before all the details are made known.

The Jacksonville City Council voted Friday to not sign the agreement because the draft plan is not yet finalized. The Eagle Point, Medford, Phoenix and Talent city councils have approved the agreement.

Other business

In other matters, the commission approved a plans submitted by Myles Comstock, owner of Valley Equipment Rental, allowing him to build a taller structure at his 2915 Highway 66 lot than the city had previously approved.

The commission also briefly discussed possible changes to the city sign code that would allow business owners to display more signs on their private property, including 3-D displays.

At a later meeting, the commission will hear related comments from locals and will vote on the sign code issue, passing their recommendations to the City Council, which will have the final say on the ordinance changes.

City officials are accepting applications for the open seat on the commission and Mayor Stromberg is hoping to appoint a new commissioner as soon as possible, city staff members said.

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.