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City planners rework landscaping ordinance

The latest wording in a proposed city landscape ordinance got a few more nods of approval from local property owners during Wednesday night's Sunnyside Planning Commission meeting.

The Commission deleted the industrial zone landscaping requirements from the ordinance, and reduced the amount of landscaped property on commercial developments governed by the city landscaping plan.

"We're moving closer to a workable ordinance," said Sunnyside businessman Pete Sartin, an opponent of the city's landscaping proposal.

"I still have trouble with the need for another layer of restrictions," he said. "But I think you are doing a good job of attempting to make this a more user-friendly document," Sartin said.

But the biggest change in the latest landscape ordinance draft is the exemption of industrial properties.

In February, industrial property owners argued against the Planning Commission's inclusion of industrial properties in the landscape ordinance. They told the commissioners that to ask them to give up valuable land for trees, shrubs and buffer zones would be depriving them of needed open space, creating a hazard for beauty's sake. Area food processors argued that the placement of trees and such vegetation would attract rodents and other pests, all considered as health and safety hazards for their operations.

Sunnyside business owner Donna Hutchinson thanked the commissioners for recognizing the differences between commercial and industrial developments.

"I can see you have given this a lot of thought," she said.

Hutchinson presented her own ideas for changes in the city ordinance, suggesting that it include definitions of what should be included in a landscaping site plan. "I think that would avoid confusion about beautification terms," she said.

Hutchinson also suggested the Commission reduce the amount of total landscaped areas from 15 to 3 percent.

On projects like Grandview's Wal-Mart distribution center, 15 percent of the property dedicated to landscaping could mean in excess of 10 acres dedicated to landscaping, said Marshall Doak, Sunnyside Inc. executive director.

Sunnyside engineer Vernon Anderson also offered a set of landscaping regulations which included an enforcement clause which the Commission agreed to include in its draft. Anderson's enforcement clause would allow the city to withhold a certificate of occupancy until all landscaping has been installed as shown on any accepted site plan. Doak suggested the Commission also consider including a temporary permit to allow for seasonal influences for completion of landscaping projects.

"You should allow for the possibility of materials not being available in a timely manner, " he said.

"I'm excited to see the draft shaping up to be more usable," Doak said. "I still think you should keep it short, sweet and livable," he said.

The Planning Commission said it understood the health and safety issues, but felt asking the owners to put up screens facing arterial streets or low growing vegetation would be a reasonable compromise.

The Commission also agreed to reduce the amount of commercial property having to be landscaped from 15 to 10 percent of the total open property, a number which some property owners feel is still too high.

"Even under the 10 percent rule my place would not be in compliance with your ruling," said Gene Bliesner, owner of Sunnyside's Snipes Mountain Restaurant and Brewery on Yakima Valley Highway. "I think we did a good job of landscaping our business. But according to your proposal I would be out of compliance with the 10 percent rule," he said.

Only 9 percent of the restaurant's parking lot is landscaped, "...including the city sidewalks," he said.

"I think the percentage of landscaped area is still too high," Bliesner said.

The Sunnyside Planning Commission struck a number of other clauses which have been in the center of a controversy between the city businessmen and the city planning group during the past six months.

Restrictive wording regarding setbacks, height of trees, loading docks and buffer zones addressed in earlier ordinance drafts were deleted from the recent draft.

The Planning Commission, which agreed to use some wording offered by Hutchinson and Anderson, have sent the latest recommendations back to city staff.

The latest version will come before the Commission at its April 14 meeting, said Planning Commission Chairman Jim Warren.

I think we're getting closer to having a workable document," he said.

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