PLANNING COMMISSION BIG BOX REVIEW SUBCOMMITTEE MINUTES
Himmel Park Library Meeting Room
1035 North Treat Avenue
June 13, 2002
Members: Rob Tomlinson, Chairperson; Bob Morgan; Grace Evans; and Thomas Sayler-Brown
Staff: James Maurer and Kathy Buchanan, Planning
Interested Parties: Terry Dee; Connie Diamos; John Rupley; Ila Rupley; Mr. Fink; Elaine Hegstrom; Carmen Vitello; Bill DuPont; Chris Tanz; and Anne Murray
1. Call to Order: Rob Tomlinson, the Subcommittee Chairperson, called the meeting to order at 4:05 p.m.
2. Introductions: Those in attendance were introduced.
3. Minutes for Approval: Rob stated he would like to clarify one section of the minutes of June 6 concerning a statement he made regarding the use of buffers. He indicated his intention concerning land use intensity and other uses in the setback area was to bring the topic up for conversation. He said he did not intend to toss his vote either way in terms of allowing uses in the setback. Grace Evans suggested modifying the minutes to read, "Consideration should be given to allowing other uses in the setback area." Rob agreed. Motion by Grace Evans, seconded by Thomas Sayler-Brown, and carried unanimously by a voice vote of 4 to 0 (Joyce Joosten absent) to approve the minutes of the June 6, 2002, meeting with the aforementioned clarification.
4. Discussion of Large Retail Establishments Ordinance: Jim Maurer began a brief presentation concerning the formatting of the Large Retail Establishment (LRE) Performance Criteria in the Land Use Code (LUC). He gave the historical background of the existing LRE amendment. He explained that the LRE amendment, as it currently exists, does not fit the format of the remainder of the LUC.
5. Guest Speakers Present to Address Issues regarding Large Retail Establishments: Thomas Spendiarian, acoustical consultant, arrived to discuss sound, sound attenuation, and site design.
Mr. Spendiarian indicated he was currently the Chairman of the Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission. He is also an acoustical consultant. He has worked for big box developers and has represented homeowners affected by sound. He explained the effort developers go to in order to avoid problems with neighbors. He stated that the main noise sources from big boxes are: the unloading of trucks; the back-up alarms from forklifts; air conditioning units, if improperly placed; garbage compactors; and customers loading and unloading their own vehicles. Some of these problems can be controlled with location on the site, hours of operation, truck marshalling yards, etc.
He indicated that the average noise level in the backyards of homes in Tucson is 45 dB (decibels); this is true almost without exception. As other examples, he said an airplane is 75 dB and Air National Guard planes running their afterburners can get up to 85 dB. He said most arterials are around 65 dB.
He stated that the Pima County big box ordinance requires a noise report. This allows the neighbors to respond, because the noise sources are called out in the report. The County ordinance, for smaller shopping centers, requires the loading docks and garbage compression units be totally enclosed. He stated that big boxes could not have totally prescriptive standards written because they have unusual requirements, such as the need to unload rebar from the side of the truck. Smaller shopping centers are not held to noise standards—they must simply meet the prescriptive standard. A big box is held to the noise standard, or the developer can measure the ambient noise and prove that the new development will not exceed the ambient noise level.
Mr. Spendiarian also explained the perception of hearing—what things the ear will tune out—low frequency sounds, such as an air conditioning unit, vs. high frequency sounds, such as a back-up alarm. He said a quiet home is around 35 dB. In response to a question, he said the County ordinance does not allow public address systems at all. He continued by stating that psychologically we tend to ignore sounds that are normal or do not impinge on our consciousness; however, back-up alarms are designed to be heard. They are set at the human ear's most sensitive level. He said a back-up alarm sound level might not even show up on a noise analysis unless a frequency analysis is also done. Therefore, if an ordinance sets a 45 dB sound level limit, it is not protective, because intermittent noises are being allowed. He said dB is usually measured at the property line. He indicated the County's Design Manual calls for the following: Large Scale Retail adjacent to residential: daytime 65 dB, nighttime 55 dB; Large Scale Retail adjacent to office/commercial: daytime 75 dB, nighttime N/A; Large Scale Retail adjacent to industrial or to another Large Scale Retail use: daytime N/A, nighttime N/A.
Mr. Spendiarian stated that wall height is directly related to the frequency of the noise source. The closer a wall is to the noise source the more effective it is going to be. He said this was more important than whether a wall is set back 200' or 300'. He said setbacks could be quite a bit smaller if walls were placed within close proximity of the noise source. He also discussed the benefits of adding a cap to the top of a wall for purposes of sound attenuation. He said landscaping is of no use in attenuating sound. He stated that if you can bargain with the developer to provide noise control walls at the noise source you would be far ahead of specifying large setback distances. He gave examples of various dB levels as: moderate speech, 65 dB; average office noise, 60 dB; standing next to a road, 70 dB; a rock band, 130 dB; a residential neighborhood, indoors, at night, 30 dB (this would be in farm country); a tranquil residential neighborhood, outdoors, at night, 45 dB; and normal breathing, 10 dB. He said that of the various retail uses construction-related uses generate the most noise. This is mostly due to their odd inventory, such as the need for side unloading of rebar. He explained that most noise ordinances have a 10 dB quieter requirement at night, and when doing an Ldn measurement, there is a 10 dB penalty assigned to noises that occur at night.
Mr. Spendiarian ended his presentation by summarizing that impact noises, single event noises, intermittent noises, and noises of mid-range frequency are the most egregious. Low frequency, general, constant noises sort of blend in with the background. Controlling the noise at its source is more important than a large setback area. Walls have to be tall enough to absorb the lowest frequencies. There are benefits to visual discontinuity—if you cannot see it, you tend not to pay attention to it. He said that means you don't perceive it as acutely as if you had to look at it.
4. Continued: Discussion returned to the formatting of the LRE amendment to fit into the format of the LUC. Jim explained that each zone contains a list of Permitted Uses and Special Exception Uses, with the Permitted Uses being those allowed by right. He explained the Land Use Group/Land Use Class hierarchy, the Development Designators, the "subject to" clauses, and the Performance Criteria. He said that Special Exceptions are not permitted by right. They require some type of review procedure—through the Planning Director, the Zoning Examiner, or Mayor and Council. He proposed that the Subcommittee adopt the format shown in the handouts provided in order to maintain consistency with the remainder of the Code. He explained how the formatting in the handouts worked. He also mentioned that keeping the language and format of the Code consistent is an important legal consideration.
Upon questioning by Bob Morgan, Jim explained the addition to the existing ordinance of the "Combination of Retail with Food and Beverage Sales" by Mayor and Council. He stated the Planning Department's recommendation was to remove it.
Discussion ensued about whether or not the Code could include parallel language; that is, include both the format in the existing LRE amendment and the format proposed by staff. Another suggestion was that parenthetical notations be added; for example, using Jim's draft, where Sec. 188.8.131.52.K is listed, a parenthetical note would be added as follows:
2. Food and Beverage Sales "31", subject to: Sec. 184.108.40.206.K (limited to a maximum of one hundred thousand [100,000] square feet of floor area)
Rob stated that the LUC is a technical document, and as such, the Subcommittee could not put something that is more "user friendly" alongside something that is actually in its proper technical format. It was determined that a pamphlet explaining the LRE amendment could be prepared after ordinance adoption to explain the process.
Rob suggested adopting the format suggested by Jim. There was unanimous agreement by the Subcommittee members to adopt the format that would match the remainder of the LUC. Rob indicated that the Subcommittee members would continue to use the January 28 draft for their review, which staff will reformat as the review process continues. Grace recommended that the staff version be presented to the Subcommittee at the end of the process.
Rob stated that at last week's meeting discussion occurred on Vehicular Access and added that he felt progress was made on that item. He said Grace had suggested separation of Buffers and Setbacks, which is reflected in the reformatted staff version of the draft.
Discussion began with Buffers, and Grace suggested that the Subcommittee accept as principles some of the items Mr. Spendiarian presented—one of those being buffering the noise at its source. She said another of the things he mentioned was the need to block the visual aspects of the big box. Another might be the need for recognition of the 10 dB difference between daytime and nighttime activities.
Bob Morgan pointed out that item A.12 was called Noise Abatement and wondered if these two items should be combined. It was agreed by the Subcommittee that the noise items under Buffers would be incorporated into the Noise Abatement section. As discussion ensued, Thomas requested that staff generate a list of definitions for the Definitions section of the LUC. In particular, he suggested staff come up with a clear definition of the word "buffer." He stated he would look through the Pima County Code for words that do not cross, such as "landscape buffers" in the County vs. "landscape strips" in the City.
Thomas mentioned that, as a designer, it is much easier to follow the new format prepared by staff than the existing LRE format, because the existing format leaves a lot to interpretation.
Rob asked the Subcommittee members if there was any interest in moving A.12 Noise Abatement closer to the discussion of Buffers and Setbacks. The Subcommittee members unanimously agreed that it should be relocated. In addition, the Subcommittee determined that the discussion of setbacks would need to occur prior to the discussion of buffers.
Rob mentioned that the term "residentially zoned property" needed to be clarified. The Subcommittee members agreed to use the concept proposed by Sarah—"residential zoning that is roadway, freeway, railroad, or wash right-of-way" would not be considered the same as residential use.
Next week's discussion will resume with Buffers, Setbacks, and Noise Abatement.
6. Next Meeting: The next meeting will be held on June 20 at 4:00 p.m. in the same location, Himmel Park Library Meeting Room, 1035 N. Treat Avenue.
7. Adjournment: 6:00 p.m.