City planners are divided on wetlands laws

After three public hearings on the proposed wetland protection zone ordinances, Planning Commissioners finally got a chance Tuesday night to question planning staff and asked them to bring back options to address their concerns.

Commissioners were divided on many issues concerning the new legislation.

Commissioner Michael Dawkins said after the meeting that the one hot button issue that really bothered him was the inclusion of intermittent streams. He said that there is nothing natural about those streams.

"They exist because they are being fed by the (Talent Irrigation Ditch) or because water is seeping out of the TID," he said.

"Homeowners have been trying to tell us this all along &

that (these streams are) a man-made situation, so why can't they choose their own landscaping, rather than what the city determines is natural," Dawkins said.

He said the TID was created at the turn of the century, and nobody knows what the natural vegetation was before the ditch was created.

He said he does support protections for Ashland's fish-bearing streams, but said he'd prefer educational programs regarding intermittent streams for property owners rather than "imposing Draconian rules."

Commissioner Tom Dimitre responded to Dawkins's concerns in an e-mail, saying, "The problem, Michael, is that these streams are now interconnected and wherever the water comes from it all ends up down in Bear Creek and it all provides habitat on the way down to Bear Creek. If we are going to try and improve the water quality, etc. of Bear Creek, we have to protect those streams (TID added or not) that contribute to Bear Creek's flow."

During the meeting, commissioner Dave Dotterrer questioned planning staff about whether a state planning goal that deals with natural resources required cities to protect wetlands, or offered suggestions on how to protect wetlands.

Bill Molnar, community development director, answered, "Once a significant wetland has been identified, the state says you must follow their requirements to protect them."

He also told the commissioners that he identified all of Ashland's streams, whether fish-bearing or intermittent, as significant in the ordinance.

Neither Molnar or Maria Harris, a planning manager for the city, returned phone calls from the Tidings to discuss why all streams in Ashland are being identified as "significant."

Molnar and Harris had made changes to five key areas of the proposed ordinance to address concerns brought up at previous public hearings.

Commissioners had trouble agreeing on how to address legally established and non-conforming structures set in a wetland zone that are destroyed from fire or natural disasters.

Planning staff had recommended allowing business owners and home owners to rebuild the primary structure and having them apply to the planning commission to request rebuilding of secondary structures.

"I don't know that I like that because it puts the ability to replace those structures at risk for the business owners," Stromberg said. "What if the planning commission determines they can't rebuild? Then we're affecting their ability to do business."

Some commissioners suggested having different criteria for business owners and home owners.

"What's the rationale for separating the two," asked commissioner Pam Marsh. "Are we saying that commercial financial interests have better standing than residential?"

Commissioner Tom Dimitre said, with the exception of the downtown area, he supports people rebuilding outside of the riparian zone if there is another location available.

Melanie Mindlin agreed &

to an extent.

"If there's room on a property to move the structures away from the zone, then they should," she said. "But if there's no room on the property to do that, then they should be allowed to rebuild in the original location."

Molnar and Harris will bring back several options regarding the commissioners' concerns and present them at the Sept. 9 planning commission meeting.

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