Wetlands ordinance gets mixed response

Courtesy of City of Ashland

Ashland planning commissioners held a public workshop Tuesday evening addressing planning staff's recommended ordinance changes to the Water Resource Protection Zones.

About 30 people listened to Community Development Director Bill Molar's presentation about what wetland and riparian protections were and why they are important resources to Ashland.

The water resources that fall under the protections include riparian corridors, streams, ponds, wetlands and areas that seasonally collect water, such as lowlands that fill up during heavy rain storms. The ordinance also calls for a buffer area that varies between 20 and 50 feet.

The proposed ordinances limit, and in some cases prohibit, new activities such as planting non-native species of plants or development in the protected zones.

Molnar said protecting these zones serves as flood control, improves water quality and temperature and maintains aquatic and wildlife habitat.

"We're finding more and more that people equate quality of life with how a city manages its natural resources," he said.

Several people spoke against the changes, citing property rights and the rights for humans to do with their property what they want.

Royce Duncan said, "The area within the urban growth boundary is not a wildlife area. And I think we should question these protections if it's at the exclusion of human use."

Trent Stoy, who lives outside the city limits and wouldn't be affected by the ordinance revisions, still wanted the commission and planning staff to hear his concerns.

"I do feel that as a property owner, I should be able to do whatever I want with my property," he said. "People telling me what I can and can't do doesn't sit well with me."

Graham Sheldon owns Ashland Creek Inn, an old mill that was converted into a bed and breakfast with a corner of the building sitting above the creek.

He asked Molnar what would happen if a flood or wildfire damaged a deck or property.

"Would a property owner be allowed to rebuild if they were within this zone?" Sheldon asked.

Molnar said he would have to look closely at the ordinance, but did not think a property owner would be allowed to rebuild.

John Stromberg, planning commission chair, said, "I think issues like that should be made very clear."

Sheldon said after the meeting that he was very concerned about the ramifications of the proposed ordinance.

"People could lose their houses, their livelihoods, through no fault of their own," he said. "This ordinance encompasses my entire property. Is it fair for the city to say, 'Sorry, you can't rebuild' if an act of God such as a flood or wildfire destroys your property?"

Hillary Tiefe told the commission that she does support the ordinance changes.

"The Earth is not just for humans," she said. "I don't want to live in a concrete jungle."

Molnar said he would take what he heard at the meeting and make adjustments and present them to the planning commission's second public meeting on May 13.

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