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Landscaping ordinance sent back to drawing board

by Julia Hart

With its critics claiming the proposed Sunnyside landscaping ordinance is anti-business and too costly, the Sunnyside Planning Commission has agreed to table the latest draft of the controversial ordinance.

The decision came after an hour of public comment was heard during a Sunnyside Planning Commission public hearing held Wednesday night.

Complimenting the commission for its efforts to develop a workable ordinance, Sunnyside businessman Pete Sartin questioned the need to put an ordinance on the city books. "Let's develop guidelines, not an ordinance," he urged.

Sartin said he has a lot of concerns about the ordinance's requirement that at least 15 percent of each parcel of commercial and industrial property be landscaped with plant material.

"You're asking us to give up a lot of valuable property for landscaping," he said. "I don't think we need this law," he said.

Longtime Sunnyside economic development supporter Ivan White stood up to say he felt the Planning Commission's landscaping ordinance will be a detriment to economic development in the community.

"I think you're about to adopt the big detriment to development in this community," White cautioned the five-person Planning Commission. He said his building on Franklin Avenue was built in the 1980s, and far exceeds the landscaping requirements being proposed. "Businesses are doing this on their own. I don't think this law is needed," he added.

The proposed landscaping ordinance requirement that plant materials be used in all city landscaping was of major concern to Mary Ann Bliesner, the CEO of Valley Processing. Bliesner said food and fruit processing plants are required to keep their buildings clear of anything which might attract bugs and rodents.

"The health and safety inspectors don't like vegetation around our buildings such as you are requiring," she said. Her husband, Gene Bliesner, said the proposed landscaping ordinance is anti-business.

Bliesner's sentiments were echoed by Art Berger, owner of Valley Manufactured Housing, who said his company has been contemplating expanding its Sunnyside operation on Fourth Street.

"But you're asking us to give up a lot of property for landscaping, land we need for our expansion," Berger said.

"We need more land, not less," he said. "If this ordinance passes we will have to rethink our decision to expand here," he added.

Guy Roberts, whose warehouse was destroyed in a fire just last week, said the Commissioners' proposal "...scares the hell out of me.

"The 15 percent landscaping requirement dampens my spirit," he said.

"I think you are confusing commercial and industrial needs in this ordinance," said Donna Hutchinson of Hutchinson Trucking on Midvale Road.

She explained that to the average person it may look like her business is not using all of its property. "But we need a lot of open space in order to maneuver the trucks around," she said.

"We use our property to park our trucks," she told the commissioners.

Adding trees and other landscaping elements to the trucking firm's operation would be potentially dangerous for the drivers. "I think a canopy of trees would be clipped by the trucks, creating a different problem. The addition of high fences as buffers will create vision problems for trucks as well, she said.

"I think there needs to be different guidelines for commercial and industrial properties," she said.

Hutchinson also brought up the city's code for dealing with dust and weed abatement, two of the concerns addressed in the new landscaping draft.

"Shouldn't the city be enforcing these ordinances rather than creating a new ordinance to deal with the issue?," Hutchinson asked.

"Does the city really need a landscaping ordinance?" asked Dan Churchhill, president of the Lower Valley Realtors Association.

"It is already a challenge to get companies and businesses to purchase property in Sunnyside, " he said.

"This ordinance will just be another hardship for us, making it more difficult to convince people to come to Sunnyside to establish businesses," he said.

Churchill said businesses already are landscaping their properties, pointing to the Domino's Pizza Restaurant on Ninth Street and Yakima Valley Highway as a prime example.

"They elected to landscape their small property. But under your requirements they would have had to buy more land in order to comply with the ordinance," he said. He said the proposed ordinance would have made the cost of the property too costly to open a store in Sunnyside.

Similar concerns were voiced by Sunnyside businessman Darrell Tadlock, who said the landscaping requirements don't make sense.

"Small businesses are already struggling to get established. It will cuts into our costs to have to put up extra money to concentrate on putting in landscape," he said.

Adding landscaping to the PW Eagles plant would create a lot of trouble for the plant, which uses all of its property for storing inventory, said Mark Tucker, a company spokesman.

"Besides," he said, "We live in a desert. What looks good to you may not necessary work in this area," he added.

Sunnyside mini-storage owner Martin Campbell said the ordinance seems to have too many vague filler words in it, such as appropriate, monotonous and attractive. "I think the use of those words are just filler in this document," he said.

"There seems to be a lot of personal opinion in this ordinance. I suggest you take out that language," Campbell said.

"Besides, how will that be enforced?" he asked.

The commissioners, who said they are receiving pressure from the City Council to forward a landscaping ordinance for consideration, agreed to review the public's concerns.

Sunnyside City Councilman Jim Restucci urged the Planning Commission to take out ambiguous wording before forwarding it on to the Council.

"Take time to review it and use tonight's comments as a starting place," he urged the panel.

Planning Commission Chairman Jim Warren said the commissioners will hold a work session March 3, to review the public's comments and concerns. The Commission will meet again March 10 to bring the landscaping ordinance back for more review.

. Julia Hart can be contacted at

(509) 837-4500, or you can e-mail her at jhart@eaglenewspapers.com

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