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Phoenix adopts rules to ease rebuilding

Phoenix home owners rebuilding from the Almeda fire won’t be held to a code requirement mandating that garages be set back 4 feet from the living space when facing the street.

City councilors removed the rule Nov. 16, as an emergency measure that eliminated the setback rule throughout town.

Many owners would not have been allowed to rebuild to the original footprint under the rule, said Phoenix Community Development Director Joe Slaughter.

“It will make for very difficult development in some cases,” Slaughter told the council. “They wouldn’t have been able to rebuild the same as before. The vast majority would have had a garage in front of the house.”

No other municipality in Jackson County requires a similar setback, Slaughter said. He says it may have been enacted to have eyes closer to the street or to allow for larger backyards. Enclosed porches were one way to meet the rule.

“People were shocked this was required in Phoenix,” Slaughter told the council. He had met with dozens of residents about the issue, and across the community they said it was not appropriate for Phoenix.

A Planning Commission recommendation said the change should just be for structures destroyed in the fire, but staff recommended it apply to the entire town.

“To say that everyone must develop this way could lead to problems in the future,” said Slaughter.

A consultant with Highline Homes, Nino La Rosa, encouraged the change in a letter submitted before the meeting. La Rosa said his firm had been contacted by many people looking to rebuild something similar to their loss and that those homes would best fit lots without meeting the setback requirement. Two other letters also supported the change, but there was no testimony from the public during the meeting.

“A contractor said he’d never see anything like this,” said Councilor Angie Vermillion, who lost her home in the fire.

Slaughter said Wednesday he suspects homeowners held off to see whether the amendment would pass before completing plans. He’s had several emails about the revision and expects to see plan submissions in about a week or two.

The first permit for building on a destroyed site was issued Monday, Slaughter said. Plans had been submitted for a second permit but were awaiting a decision on the setback requirement and documents showing that demolition and cleanup were complete.

Besides eliminating the setback rule, the council changed the rules for additional dwelling units that will allow larger ones to be built in some cases. ADUs are a way to increase density, provide housing and offer income to homeowners. They may be either attached or detached from the main unit.

Previously ADUs could be up to 800 square feet but were limited to a maximum of half the size of the home on a lot if it was less than 1,600 square feet. A 1,200-squre-foot residence would have been allowed a 600-square-foot ADU under the old rules. Now any ADU on any residential lot can be 800 square feet.

“I think this is a great opportunity for Phoenix to improve our infill and provide for livable space for our community,” said Councilor Stuart Warren.

In other building news, Slaughter said 58 permits had been issued for demolition in town following the Almeda fire. He has advised owners of burned structures that they may want to wait for state and federal cleanup operations, which is being done at no cost to landowners.

About 565 homes were lost in Phoenix due to the fire. That included 284 manufactured homes, 20 RVs used as dwellings, 111 single-family homes and 150 multi-family units.

Slaughter and other city officials have been in conversations with District 5 state Rep. Pam Marsh about a state program that may provide funds to assist the Community Development Department, which is facing an anticipated surge in applications for new construction as homeowners rebuild.

Currently the department has just Slaughter and a permit technician. If funding materializes, he would like to add two planners on an 18- to 24-month basis. One of those might become permanent as the city explores options for adding more land into its urban growth boundary.

In other business, the resignation of Councilor Andrew Barron was announced. Barron lost his home in the Almeda fire and he has moved to Eagle Point. The council will fill the vacancy, likely in the new year.

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

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune FEMA will pay for hazardous debris cleanup in the Almeda fire zone.