Council favors historic standards for downtown setback

A narrow Ashland City Council majority gave precedence to historical design in upholding a disputed Ashland Planning Commission ruling.

On Wednesday afternoon, the City Council voted 4-3 to grant local architect Raymond Kistler a variance to construct a building 10 feet closer to North Main Street than street standards authorize.

On arterial streets, buildings are supposed to be set back 20 feet to provide better light, air and vision, and to allow for future street widening. Those rules conflict with historic design standards that call for buildings to abut streets, as seen downtown.

The Planning Commission previously voted 5-4 to grant Kistler the variance &

thus prioritizing historic design standards. But the City Council called up that case for review.

Councilor Kate Jackson, who voted with the council majority to grant the variance, said there is already existing width on North Main Street to allow for future bike lanes, park rows and sidewalks by setting the building back 10 feet. She said putting buildings closer to the street improves the environment for pedestrians.

"Bringing buildings up to the street does have the effect of slowing traffic," Jackson said.

But Councilor Eric Navickas, who voted against the variance, said constructing the building so close to the street on the corner lot at the intersection of North Main and Glenn Streets will make it harder for drivers to see oncoming traffic.

He said trees lining the street can have the same effect in slowing drivers as placing buildings near the street.

Councilor Cate Hartzell, who also voted against the variance, said she doesn't believe the historic character of the area is better protected by building near the street. She referenced the testimony of resident Bill Street, who noted that many historic buildings along North Main Street are actually set back a distance. Many newer buildings are near the street.

However, in casting his tie-breaking vote, Mayor John Morrison said setting the building back by 10 feet helps smooth the mix of near and far setbacks from newer and older buildings in the area.

The Planning Commission is continuing to look at the issue of arterial street setbacks versus historic design standards. That body is scheduled to hold a study session and take public comments in July, said Community Development Department Director David Stalheim.

He said the City Council's new decision on the issue does not necessarily set a precedent. The Planning Commission and City Council are not bound to use the decision in deciding future cases, but will instead continue to apply city ordinances and standards.

However, if the City Council or Planning Commission makes a future decision that contradicts Wednesday's ruling, members could be accused of being arbitrary and capricious, Stalheim said.

The question of whether to construct buildings near or far from streets could most visibly affect development in Ashland along Lithia Way &

an arterial street subject to historic design standards.

Adding to the confusion, current rules call for buildings to be constructed near the street on the south side of Lithia Way, but far from the street on the north side.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or

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