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Planning Commission Study Session Minutes
Monday, May 12, 2014
The study session of the Medford Planning Commission was called to order at 12:00 p.m. in Room 151 of the Lausmann Annex on the above date with the following members and staff in attendance:
Commissioners: Michael Zarosinski, Robert Tull, David McFadden, Alec Schwimmer, Bill Christie, Bill Mansfield, Norman Fincher,
Staff: Jim Huber, Bianca Petrou, Kelly Akin, Joe Slaughter and Lori Cooper.
Guests: Jo Ellen Stodola, Wal-Mart Manager for Southern Oregon and John McBride, North Wal-Mart Store Manager.
Subjects: 1. Temporary/Portable Storage Containers Code Amendment.
Jim Huber, Planning Director, stated that Joe Slaughter, Planner II, will discuss the Temporary/Portable Storage Containers Code Amendment.
Joe Slaughter, Planner II, presented a PowerPoint presentation regarding the Temporary/Portable Storage Containers Code amendment. The first several slides of the PowerPoint presentation went over the definition, request, direction, standard shipping container dimensions and standard semi-trailer dimensions. Currently the use of portable storage containers is not allowed in the Code. The use of portable storage containers in commercial zones has been a recurring issue for the past several years, appearing each year around the holiday season. Action 11.1d of the 2012-2018 Strategic Plan directs staff “to develop a set of rules to facilitate storage lots for shipping containers”. In the proposed Code amendment under Applicability, a Temporary Portable Storage Container Permit is required for placement of any portable storage container with the following exceptions: 1) Truck trailers parked on a street for 24 hours or less; 2) Portable storage containers that will remain on a property for no more than five days; 3) Portable storage containers that have been approved as a permanent portion of an approved site plan; and 4) Portable storage containers used for primary use in businesses in the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) groupings: 15 – General Building Contractors, 16 – Heavy Construction Contractors, 17 – Special Trade Contractors, 40 – Railroad and Transportation and 42 – Trucking and Warehousing.
Chair Zarosinski stated that seeing the slides presented in the PowerPoint presentation of the placement of as many as twenty portable storage containers on a site that he would want them to be screened.
Commissioner McFadden asked if the screening of the temporary storage containers would be total or partial screening? Mr. Slaughter replied that it would be total screening within the limitations of the Code. It would not be visible from neighboring properties or from public right-of-way as written.
Commissioner Schwimmer stated that building something to hide the temporary portable storage containers is defeating the entire underline purpose of why the Commission is addressing this provision. It is intended as a temporary problem that the Commission is addressing that does not exist in the current Code.
Commissioner McFadden stated that it is too bad that a representative from the Site Plan and Architectural Commission was not in attendance because in many ways this is more of an issue for them than it is for the Planning Commission. The Site Plan and Architectural Commission was rather specific to no portable storage containers were allowed which was agreed to during the development phase of the south Wal-Mart. It seems to him that now they are getting into another phase of development issues. There have been many discussions regarding the appearance of the building, landscaping, loading and unloading areas and the parking lot. To be aesthetically pleasing. In a sense this is creating a fourth concern dealing with site plans in terms of where the portable storage containers will be sited on the property and the screening. Many people were upset when Lowe’s on the north end of the building installed a twenty-foot high cyclone fence. Some people are concerned with Lowe’s and various other places that turn part of their parking lot into a long seasonal outdoor sales facility that is not part of the regular building. Screening the containers seems to go back to the big box mentality.
Commissioner Mansfield stated that he would like to hear what the industry has to say about this. He would like to know their position. Mr. McBride stated that it would be extremely difficult to the point where they would not be able to do it if they have to build walls. For trailers he cannot put in the back but he does put them on the side. He can put eight trailers in that area which he did this past Christmas. To build a wall around that for that time frame and tear it down would not be effective. It is not feasible for them to have a warehouse because most of the item they are putting in those trailers is layaway merchandise for their customers. They would have to ask the customer to wait one to one and a half hour while they run to the warehouse to pick up the merchandise. Wal-Mart gets $1M to $1.5M in layaway merchandise that is stored for the holiday season. The only issue he has with this Code amendment is the screening.
Vice Chair Tull stated that it is his understanding that when the south Wal-Mart was reviewed by the Site Plan and Architectural Commission there were some significant heavy duty negotiations as to how that site would work and look like. The use of storage units outside the existing building was discussed at length. His understanding, though he was not there, is that a compromise situation was agreed to that significantly restricted the use of storage units on the site. What is Ms. Stodola understanding of that condition that was put on the approval by the Site Plan and Architectural Commission? Ms. Stodola replied that she did not know the answer to that question. When those plans were being built for south Medford she was running the north Medford store which was allowed to have trailers. She was not aware of any type of restriction or what was discussed.
Vice Chair Tull put the same question to staff. What were the conditions placed on the south Medford Wal-Mart as its site plan was approved by the Site Plan and Architectural Commission? Ms. Akin replied that she did not know.
Chair Zarosinski asked if it was correct that the current Code reads that no one can have portable storage containers? Mr. Huber replied that they are associated with construction sites. They are not absolutely prohibited. The proposed use is prohibited. If this Code is adopted, it would apply City wide. It would not just limit it to Christmas. The temporary portable storage container permit could be issued during any twelve month period. It would be one permit for the twelve months.
Vice Chair Tull asked staff if they had made any estimation of how many commercial properties this would apply to and have any other retailers expressed interest in the Code amendment? Mr. Huber replied that he does not recall any other retailers expressing interest. The Planning Commission needs to think of other places that this could make a difference. He hates to think by solving a problem that Wal-Mart is dealing with the Planning Commission enable thirty other situations to use this Code amendment and then there is something far beyond their expectations.
Chair Zarosinski stated that he is dealing with the aesthetics of this. Is the Planning Commission stuck on an aesthetics issue?
Commissioner Christie stated that one of the slides in the PowerPoint presentations shows storage containers in a warehouse for storage containers because the doors on them are in the back. This slide is the ugliest of the ugliest. That is not what the Planning Commission is dealing with, with this Code amendment. The Planning Commission is dealing with a few of the temporary portable storage containers and mostly with wheeled units. There is no control over the color.
Mr. McBride reported that the company they deal with every year brings them all white trailers. They use only the trailer units.
Commissioner Mansfield stated that the retail business is not the most beautiful business in the world. He is not as concerned with the aesthetics in these areas. The permits cost the consumers money. It is not in the public interest to do anymore regulations than necessary.
Commissioner Fincher commented to start the permit process without the screening. That is something that can be added at a later date if it continues to be a problem. Permit the storage units to see if people use common sense and it that does not happen then take it to the next level.
Chair Zarosinski replied that the alternative to that is to keep the screening but the applicant would have to go the Site Plan and Architectural Commission to not have it.
Commissioner McFadden asked how many storage units would Wal-Mart use? Ms. Stodola replied twenty or less.
Vice Chair Tull stated that there is another consideration, just practically speaking, there is a certain amount of maneuvering space that is necessary moving these units onto and off the property. They cannot be boxed in and be able to work with them.
Commissioner Christie reported that one cannot screen them on the front or one will not be able to get them out. In his opinion if screening is required you might as well forget about this ordinance period.
Mr. Slaughter stated that there is a maximum fence height of eight feet. One could not build a fence or something considered a fence in excess of eight feet. It would be over the top of trailers on wheels. Another point is site planning. Site planning is taken very seriously by most developers. They are looking at maximizing their site. There are very few site plans that have an area that is not used. Usually there is the building, parking, loading/off-loading, fire access lanes, etc. If screening is not required meeting this Code might be difficult because of the entire site plan process. It is very important to preserve whatever is approved in the site plan process. This Code is trying to preserve those uses that are approved for a site and that in itself is going to make this very difficult. Not intentionally but that is the reality of it.
Vice Chair Tull stated that in considering that, part of the understanding that is approved by the Site Plan and Architectural Commission is the required parking that tends to have seasonal aspects to it also. If the only open space on a given retail site is twelve parking spaces that have been approved as part of the site plan and that is the place that storage units have to go, then we are defeating the kind of input that the Site Plan and Architectural Commission makes to planning commercial sites for the City. He is not ready to say in the Christmas season a given store needs ten percent fewer parking spaces so that they can accommodate storage units.
Chair Zarosinski stated that he is leaning towards Commissioner Fincher’s statement of leaving the screening out and see what happens.
Commissioner McFadden commented that it is his opinion that the screening idea is as fraught with problems as the problem the Planning Commission is trying to solve. He is not sure he likes the idea of a screening wall. It is his opinion that Vice Chair Tull understated the issue. A storage container would take up at least two parking spaces.
Vice Chair Tull stated that he is troubled by something. It seems to him that if the business of a large retail company includes seasonal uses of facilities and yet the site plan that came to the City and was approved by the Site Plan and Architectural Commission did not make provisions for that. They did not plan for the seasonal storage that is necessary to their business or at least if they planned for it they did not tell the City that they are going to need to bring a whole bunch of storage units onto the site every year. It is his opinion that the City was lead to believe that if this store were built like this that it would be adequate to conduct the business of that retailer. They come to the City and state that they forgot to tell the City that they are going to need to add another several thousand square feet of storage space every fall. He is not comfortable with that perception.
Chair Zarosinski asked if any one of the retailers could explain what has changed in the market place operationally from when the stores were built that they did not need this. Commissioner Christie replied that it is expansion of the store. It is the value of the business. The customer base has expanded so the sales have expanded. When one builds a store they are given a footprint. If sales increase and more inventory is needed or more storage for layaways or whatever, it has to come somewhere. They cannot build another warehouse on that site. His problem with all the rules and regulations it is difficult to stay in business as a retailer.
Vice Chair Tull stated that Wal-Mart began talking with the City about this kind of permitting before the north store was opened. The plans that the submitted to the City for that store on that site did not include provision for temporary storage and yet they knew they were going to need it.
Ms. Stodola stated that all they want to do is the right thing with the City. A wall would not be adequate on their site; to build a wall and take it down because they are looking at a limited time. There are businesses in Medford that have trailers that should not have them. This is trying to address the entire situation.
Commissioner Mansfield stated that if the amendment requires construction that Ms. Stodola’s industry opposes, the City should be notifying the other retailers in the community what the Planning Commission is discussing and get all of them into the action. We do not want to enact this and then the retailers find out about it. It sounds like this is a very big deal to Wal-Mart. Mr. McBride replied that it is critical to his business. There are several retailers in the community that have them year round. When he moved here four years ago he called the City and they told him he could have trailers as long as they were on wheels. There is nothing in the Code. Since then that is how he has operated every year except the year they were closed. Last year both the north and south Wal-Mart stores had trailers on wheels in the back and they never received one complaint. Commissioner Mansfield stated that his only point is that if the City is seriously thinking about all this, they need to notify the entire industry.
Commissioner McFadden asked if Commissioner Mansfield was saying to notify the industry by announcing the public hearing on the issue. Commissioner Mansfield replied yes.
Chair Zarosinski stated that it is his opinion that most people will find out once the City passes the ordinance that it is more restrictive than what people have been doing. The Commission remains stuck on the screening.
Commissioner Christie states that he has no problem if they wanted to ban sea trains. The trailers are portable. In his opinion screening the trailers is ridiculous.
Chair Zarosinski stated that he searched online regarding this topic and read a couple of other community codes. He noticed that they were all permitted. He did not get any ideas on screening from other communities. It was not addressed.
Mr. Slaughter reported that there are a lot of communities that do not allow this. It is harder to find on Google because you are searching for something they do not have. The ones that he found that had similar codes were that the number of units and duration were much smaller. Since the request was for twenty containers up to 120 days that any recommendation that did not meet that request fell short of the direction to facilitate this use. That is partially why staff came back with this new proposal. In general the screening was not as big of a deal because there were fewer containers and shorter duration, more of a temporary use. This is a seasonal use up to a third of the year reoccurring every year. The screening was in response to large areas for a larger portion of the year.
Chair Zarosinski stated that he is comfortable with the other items in the proposed code and not screening.
Mr. McBride stated that with all the other things that are in the proposed code it is not giving free reign. It is for a limited time, 10 feet from the building, limit on the trailers and a limit on the time. Currently there is nothing and people are doing whatever they want. At least with the code it gives it structure.
Commissioner Christie stated that for the smaller retailer, like his business, parking spaces are like gold to them. They are not going to cover them up in their busiest season. They are taking a lot of their products they have in their lots now and moving them so that they do have more parking.
Chair Zarosinski asked if there could be a general condition of the portable units that go on a lot? Commissioner Christie replied that the Planning Commission needs to get back to what they consider portable units. Trailers such as McKinney, by law, have to have certain markings on them. Unfortunately, some trailers come in with graffiti on them. If there is excessive writing and/or dents on a trailer the Oregon Department of Transportation will take them off the road.
Mr. Huber repeated again that this Code amendment is not just for retailers. This amendment would apply in the C-R, C-H and the three industrial zones.
Chair Zarosinski stated that the direction the Planning Commission is giving to staff is to keep the same proposed amendment, remove screening and include appearance standards.
Commissioner McFadden and Commissioner Christie stated to define portable as on wheels.
Chair Zarosinski requested Commissioner Christie to explain his concerns about no wheels. Commissioner Christie stated that if one person puts one on their lot then it will become okay for other people to do it and it will not end at just one sea train on their lots. In his mind sea trains are not portable. Mr. Huber replied that staff looks at it from the perspective that there is no foundation.
Mr. Huber reported that staff could present a draft Code amendment to the Planning Commission in another study session
Commissioner McFadden commented that trailers have to be licensed where the sea trains do not. A restriction could be included in the Code that it has to be a valid licensed trailer. Mr. Slaughter reported that there is a definition already in the Code for trailers. Restricting it to the trailers is simple to do. Using licenses could get complicated. Leave the definition fairly broad with some kind of appearance standards.
Commissioner Mansfield requested a summarization of where they were at this point. Chair Zarosinski replied that staff is going to bring the proposed Code amendment back to the Planning Commission without the screening requirements, general condition and appearance of the storage units. It is going to be very broad. What the Commission is trying to work out now is should it just be trailers on wheels or something that can be sat.
Vice Chair Tull stated that staff could write this so that it has to be a trailer that can go on the highway and get a permit that allows holding that trailer on the site for more than five days for loading and unloading. If a customer wants to bring in a pod that gets dropped off that that be a special consideration that does not come under the same permit. This is something that is going to be on the ground for construction purposes, etc. This would be a special permit or an exception. If it is not portable and licensed then it should be specially permitted.
Commissioner Christie stated that the pods would look better than the sea trains.
Vice Chair Tull stated that when talking about a non-portable unit do we put a different type of timing on it or does the timing need to be specified in the permit? Commissioner Christie stated that as a non-portable unit the permit should state the time the pod will be on the ground. Mr. Huber reported that those types of units are already covered in the Code.
Vice Chair Tull reported that if the Commission confines this ordinance to trailers with wheels and valid license and so on then it is a question of time and how to approach the people who are presently depending on units that are not portable.
Vice Chair Tull stated that he would like to see what this all looks and sounds like before the Planning Commission is in a public hearing. He would like this to come back to the Planning Commission in another study session. This could easily be a secondary item on a study session agenda.
The meeting was adjourned at 1:13 p.m.
Terri L. Rozzana, Recording Secretary