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Landscaping ordinance workable, according to Sunnyside Inc. director

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The landscaping at Snipes Mountain Brewing restaurant on Yakima Valley Highway is one of the places in town that meets the requirements of the new commercial landscaping ordinance, said Assistant City Manager/City Attorney Mark Kunkler. Kunkler said other businesses such McDonalds and KFC/A&W also meet the current landscaping requirements.

Admittedly, when the City of Sunnyside began the process of trying to adopt a landscaping ordinance for the community three years ago, the result ended up being a mess. Community members were presented with a small book detailing landscaping requirements that many didn't understand.

But after several public meetings by the Sunnyside Planning Commission, the Council adopted a landscaping ordinance this past June that applies just to commercial properties. The ordinance took effect July 1.

The Council identified at its retreat earlier this month they want the planning commission to go back and consider addressing a landscaping ordinance for residential and industrial locations in town.

Sunnyside Inc. Executive Director Marshall Doak believes the landscaping ordinance the Council adopted in June is much better than the one that was initially proposed to the public a couple of years ago. Doak said the ordinance is not nearly as anti-business as it could be.

"Where it (the ordinance) started it would have been a detriment (to business)," said Doak. "I don't think it (the new ordinance) will inhibit development."

Doak said there is nothing that wrong with having the community adopt a minimum set of landscaping requirements. Doak did say with every ordinance at issue there are some parts that the public can and can't live with.

"It is always a concern to ask people to invest a little bit extra," said Doak. "It (implementing the ordinance) is not going to be that costly to businesses."

Doak added he felt the landscaping ordinance could be a good thing for developing business.

"I think that this lets the region know Sunnyside intends to project a positive image."

Sunnyside Assistant City Manager/City Attorney Mark Kunkler said he believes the community has been given enough opportunity to comment on the landscaping ordinance. Over the past three years, drafts of the landscaping standards and proposed ordinances have appeared 17 times as an agenda item before the planning commission or Council. The planning commission held five public hearings and the Council held one open meeting.

"We appreciate all the public comments, suggestions and involvement of interested residents, business owners and citizens in the process of developing the new ordinance," said Kunkler. "This greatly exceeds the minimum public hearing requirements set forth in our municipal code for ordinances of this type."

In a nutshell, the new landscaping ordinance provides standards for a limited type of development in Sunnyside. The adopted standards apply to any new commercial development or the remodeling of an existing business where the value of the improvements occurring within a two-year period is equal to or greater than 50 percent of the assessed value of the existing structure. The new ordinance doesn't apply to businesses in the B-3 retail core zone, which is the downtown area.

The guts of the commercial landscaping ordinance requires a new or existing business making alterations to submit a site plan, showing the location and type of landscaping being planned. The city also requires that there be a minimum of 10 percent coverage of landscaping for parking lots. The shaded area of a tree will go towards the landscaping coverage requirement. The ordinance also details allowable landscaping materials, which include trees, shrubs, ground cover, lawn, bark, mulch, rocks, gravel and other materials with preference given to living plant materials. The ordinance also calls for the sight screening of trash cans and outdoor storage areas. Businesses will also be required to meet certain fencing requirements, as well as maintaining the landscaping once it is installed.

"The planning commission and City Council also desired that developers have flexibility in designing a landscaping plan, which fits their primary needs of access, visibility and utility of their property," said Kunkler. "Therefore, a mechanism exists for developers to submit alternate plans to meet the intent of the new standards."

Kunkler said a full copy of the ordinance is available at city hall for review.

"We have already received favorable comments regarding the landscaping ordinance and standards from persons and firms considering new business ventures in Sunnyside, as well as favorable comments from existing business owners," said Kunkler.

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