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Phoenix's Main Street will stick to road diet for now

The return of Main Street to two vehicle lanes was put on hold when the Phoenix City Council this week agreed with an appeal of Planning Commission approval for the change that would have eliminated east-side street parking between First and Fourth streets.

Don Fitch, who owns commercial property at 110 N. Main St., appealed the Planning Commission’s May 29 variance approval that would have allowed a return to two traffic lanes, which were scaled back to a one-lane configuration with a bike lane in fall of 2015. The city sought the variance.

“It’s very unusual that my appeal is going to the body that requested the whole variance change in the first place,” Fitch said during testimony in a public hearing. Fitch paid $1,350 to file the appeal.

Councilors ruled Monday that the Planning Commission lacked substantial evidence that showed the hardship being addressed was not created by the city in agreeing to the variance. The city’s Transportation System Plan requires bike and travel lanes of minimum widths, and parking on both sides of an arterial, but those elements could not be accommodated in the Main Street right of way as proposed by the city. Councilor Sarah Westover argued the city created the hardship when it adopted the TSP.

Councilors Jim Snyder, Stuart Warren and Westover voted for a motion that resulted in the denial. Councilor Terry Baker voted against, and Councilor Cindy Cameron abstained.

An Oregon Court of Appeals case recommended that the best way to address such issues is to seek changes to codes rather than granting variances, City Attorney Doug McGeary told the council before it began debating the “hardship” issue.

“We’ll definitely look at amending the TSP because we want to go back to two lanes,” said Mayor Chris Luz, who has advocated for a return to the setup. He said the council at its first September meeting likely will look at giving direction to the Planning Commission to begin the process of revising the TSP.

City officials in 2015 had suggested Main Street could be changed back to its two-lane configuration after a year if it did not work out. A number of citizens have complained about the present setup.

Fitch said he bought his property in 1976 because it offered on-street parking. He said the commission actions went against the city’s Land Development Code, Comprehensive Plan and City Center Plan, as well as the TSP.

“New safety hazards will be created by this variance. It creates hardships for existing business,” said Fitch.

Elderly customers and those with disabilities would find it harder to access Salon Rogue, a nail care business at Fitch’s building, said Angela Vermillion, who runs the salon.

“If the on-street parking is eliminated, it would create a hardship for businesses,” said Andrea Adams, who owns property at 310 N. Main St., which includes the Phoenix Clubhouse and spaces other businesses rent.

On-street parking next to the new Phoenix Plaza Civic Center, where the council meeting was held, would have been eliminated under the proposal, Fitch noted.

There’s an option in the code that would allow reduction of bike and travel lane widths to allow parking on both sides, along with two vehicle lanes and a bike lane, Fitch said during testimony. City Planning Director Evan MacKenzie confirmed that option, but the Planning Commission had not considered it and therefore it was not involved in the appeal, which was based strictly on commission findings.

“It’s a safe bet we will get some direction from the council to pursue an update. It’s staff’s point of view that is the best way to do it,” said MacKenzie. An update would create adopted standards for projects and would have to be consistent with state and federal standards, he said.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.