Business Owners Air Landscaping Concerns

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Hermiston Chamber of Commerce President Debbie Pedro talks to the city council about a proposed landscaping ordinance during Monday's council meeting.

The Hermiston City Council chose not to vote on a proposed landscaping ordinance Monday night, but will, instead, take up the issue at its next meeting.

The council, did, however, hear from several business owners – some of whom support the proposed ordinance, while others were adamantly opposed.

The proposed ordinance would set minimum landscaping standards for new commercial, industrial and multi-family developments. Existing developments would be exempted from the requirements.

The ordinance was drafted by the city’s Community Enhancement Committee and was presented to the public during several forums, including the Hermiston Planning Commission. At the Aug. 12 Planning Commission hearing, about 20 people spoke about the ordinance, most in opposition. The commission then recommended the council reject the proposed ordinance and consider amending it with recommendations based on public input.

Several of the recommendations included amendments that would ease some requirements or make them voluntary rather than required.

Hermiston Chamber of Commerce President Debbie Pedro, who is on the Community Enhancement Committee, shared with the council a survey of chamber members which showed that 71 percent were in favor of some sort of landscaping ordinance, but with some changes. Concerns expressed by the chamber members included the cost to business owners and the use of water to maintain landscaping in a desert climate where water is limited.

Pedro said the chamber board is offering to host a workshop between business owners and city staff to find common ground and develop an ordinance “the community as a whole can support enthusiastically.”

Hermiston resident Karen Zacharias spoke in favor of the ordinance. She said livability is a key factor when people are deciding where to live.

“People come to a community that is visually appealing,” she said. “I understand this will be an investment for some businesses, but we are growing rapidly and we have to decide what kind of city we’re going to be and what kind of populace we want to attract.”

Kari Christiansen of Sherrell Chevrolet said she supports the concept of the ordinance, but worries the requirements would leave little discretion for business owners.

Hermiston City Planner Clint Spencer said the ordinance does not spell out what sorts of landscaping a business must install. The primary requirements deal with the percentage of property that must be landscaped, not how it is landscaped. For example, multi-family developments must have 15 percent of the property landscaped, while commercial development must have between 3 and 6 percent landscaped, depending on the specific zone where it is located. Industrial development must have a minimum of 3 percent of the property landscaped.

Hermiston resident Don Skeen worries about the aspect of the ordinance that calls for conserving existing vegetation. He pointed out that goat heads and Russian olive trees – both considered nuisances – are natural vegetation. He also pointed out that roots of large trees can cause severe foundation damage.

Kathy Erz of Columbia River CPA Services in Hermiston told the council she opposed the ordinance because of the expense to business owners to install and maintain landscaping. She also said most businesses are already landscaping their property, making the ordinance unnecessary. She also pointed out that the nature of some businesses make landscaping more problematic. For example, a nonprofit organization shouldn’t have to spend money on landscaping that could go toward helping the people it serves.

The council tabled the ordinance and directed staff to amend it based on comments from the public. The council will address the issue again at its Sept. 14 meeting.