A new landscaping ordinance for commercial entities the Sunnyside City Council has wanted to implement has been controversial since it was first introduced a couple of years ago. Last night was no different, but the Council went ahead and approved a condensed version of it anyway.
The Council voted 4-2 to pass the landscaping ordinance, with Mayor Ed Prilucik and Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar going against the measure. Shortly following the vote, Aguilar inexplicably left the Council meeting.
"This is the product of several months of hard work," said Sunnyside Assistant City Manager/City Attorney Mark Kunkler at Monday night's Council meeting.
Kunkler worked with the Sunnyside Planning Commission on redefining the landscaping ordinance, which was about 25 pages in length when it was initially proposed.
The ordinance approved by Council last night is just under five pages in length, outlining specific criteria new commercial development in Sunnyside will have to meet.
Kunkler said that the ordinance does have a provision that would make existing businesses that undergo an expansion or alteration to meet the new landscaping requirements. This would only apply when a remodel or expansion would be equal to or greater than 50 percent of the value of the existing business.
The ordinance also outlines the general landscaping requirements for parking areas at a business. The ordinance was modified from 15 percent landscaping of parking areas to 10 percent. The landscaping ordinance also outlines such areas as building perimeters, plant materials, fencing and walls, and enforcement.
Kunkler said the ordinance is scheduled to take effect July 1.
Kunkler noted one of the differences with this ordinance before Council and past ones is the amount of flexibility it provides. Kunkler said during the public hearing process, the planning commission kept hearing from business owners and the rest of the public the need to have a flexible ordinance, which allows developers to try different things. Kunkler said he believes this ordinance provides the needed flexibility.
However, Aguilar didn't share the same enthusiasm Kunkler had for the ordinance. Aguilar said she didn't see the need for such an ordinance, a stance she has taken in the past with the issue. Aguilar said the businesses that are coming to town are doing a fine job of sprucing up their place. She suggested the Council not pass the ordinance because of the shape of the economy. Aguilar added that she is more worried about bringing new business into town then necessarily having them meet a set list of landscaping standards.
"I really feel strongly this is not the time," said Aguilar. "We are living in hard times right now."
Aguilar's opinion met with some opposition from her fellow councilmen.
Councilman Bruce Ricks said the ordinance holds a high standard for businesses to meet. He noted that such businesses as Jack-in-the-Box didn't bat an eyelash at meeting city landscaping requirements before. Ricks said he would actually like to see the landscaping ordinance before council more stringent to help meet the future commercial development needs of the city.
"In the next five to 10 years, this community is going to see huge growth," said Ricks.
City Manager Bob Stockwell touched on the need for a landscaping ordinance. He said a new business is going in along Yakima Valley Highway. The business is constructing a new building, but developers didn't put in enough frontage to develop landscaping. Stockwell said the new building will be in the community for several decades to come, but there are no landscaping requirements in place to make that an attractive location. Stockwell said landscaping is such a minimal expense when starting a business and in the end it will only help the owner.
Aguilar jabbed back, disagreeing with Stockwell.
"The good thing is there will be a business there," said Aguilar.
Aguilar felt burdening business owners with additional requirements will only diminish development.
Councilman Don Vlieger voiced no opposition to the ordinance. Vlieger said it is a very minimal ordinance, asking developers to meet few standards. Vlieger said it doesn't help the community to not have in place any standards for business owners to meet.
"I am a businessman and to be in business it costs money," said Vlieger.
Aguilar asked what other cities are doing concerning landscaping requirements. Councilman Alex de la Cruz, who was on the planning commission when the landscaping ordinance was initially proposed, said communities such as Moses Lake, Othello, Yakima and Pasco have in place similar landscaping ordinances which the planning commission reviewed at the time.
Prilucik felt the city wasn't ready for a landscaping ordinance.
"I can't get past the bump in the road that this is government regulating landscaping," said Prilucik.
Prilucik said he thought such measures should be regulated by the commercial sector of the community.
Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer agreed with the mayor, but said the city does need some sort of guidelines in place. Farmer said businesses with banners, overflowing garbage dumpsters and bars on their windows don't make the community attractive for further economic development.
"These are things telling people Sunnyside isn't a good place," said Farmer.
Local business owner Gene Bliesner said hadn't read the entire ordinance, but from what he scanned it seemed like a much more workable solution than previous proposed ordinances.
Another local business owner, Pete Sartin, unloaded on the Council. Sartin took the mayor to task, saying that he had promised there would be a public meeting before Council on the matter before a vote was taken. Sartin also said his request to have business owners and developers before the planning commission was denied. Sartin presented Council with a list of 14 local business owners who weren't in favor of the ordinance and would like to have further discussions with the Council and planning commission.
"We don't want you guys telling us what we have to do," said Sartin.
Business owners on the list include Sunnyside Tire Factory, C Speck Motors, R.E. Powell Distributing, Curfman Steel Corp and Andrus & Roberts.
The mayor apologized for not having an official public hearing notice on the issue, but did add that citizens were being given the opportunity to comment on the matter now.
Local resident Martin Campbell encouraged the Council to not pass the ordinance without receiving more public input. Campbell, who doesn't own commercial property, said he has always heard during various discussions that it was Council who wanted the landscaping ordinance, in particular Councilmen Mike Farmer, Don Vlieger and Bruce Ricks.
"We (the citizens and business owners) were never able to debate the city councilmen who were pushing this," said Campbell.
. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at email@example.com