Planning Commission votes a second time to let Clover Lane project proceed
By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news
The Ashland Planning Commission has allowed a planned Tesla Supercharger station to move forward after a citizen appeal brought forward concerns about strain on the city’s electrical grid.
On Tuesday night, Oct. 11, a month after hearing the appeal on Sept. 13, commissioners denied an appeal against a 24-unit charging station planned for an undeveloped lot at 580 Clover Lane.
Appellant Jeff Sharpe said he was not opposed to development by Tesla, and even gave the tech giant credit for pioneering innovations in the electric vehicle industry. But after learning a 200,000-kilowatt charging station was planned for the east end of town, where businesses already draw a lot of power, he wanted to ensure the Planning Department was taking this cumulative impact into consideration.
“We’re really in a unique situation that we own our own electric company,” said Sharpe during a Sept. 13 public hearing to consider his appeal. “I hope that Planning takes a close look at how particular developments are going to affect other developments on our electric grid.”
Sharpe himself is a mechanical engineer and founder/CEO of Stracker Solar, an Ashland-based solar manufacturer, though he said he was appealing as a citizen and not on behalf of his company.
Sharpe also expressed concerns about potential traffic congestion, noting the narrowness of Clover Lane, as well as the fact that the development would only benefit Tesla drivers and not users of other electric vehicle brands.
During the Sept. 13 meeting, Senior Planner Aaron Anderson said his department and the Ashland Municipal Electric Utility had coordinated with Tesla before and during the approval process to determine potential strains on the grid. Anderson said, after Tesla provided enough data to model the station’s impact on the grid, a weak point was identified in the system, however this was a section of power line that was already slated for an upgrade and would not have been impacted by the Tesla station.
This allayed Sharpe’s concerns about the grid, but he remained skeptical of other challenges posed by the station. Tesla representatives on hand Sept. 13 addressed such issues directly.
Tesla Project Developer Alex Schoknecht said traffic data provided to the city was based on traffic at charging stations in similar locations, so it would be a realistic depiction of traffic expected on Clover Lane. He also noted the original plan submitted to the city included one entrance and one exit, but planning staff recommended using a single access point while widening the adjacent street, as this would better comply with municipal code.
When asked about the potential for congestion within the facility, Tesla Design Manager Brian Sliger said this is a high priority for Tesla and said the company’s goal to build charging stations elsewhere in Southern Oregon should help alleviate any congestion issues within the Ashland facility. Tesla has been aggressively building Superchargers since 2018, averaging around 10,000 new units globally each year, and is on track to match that progress by the end of 2022.
When asked about the possibility of adding universal chargers so drivers of other electric vehicle brands could use the station, Tesla representatives said the company is in the process of developing universal adapters for their charging stations. When asked about the current lack of restroom facilities in their plans for the station, Schoknecht said most drivers use charging stations during normal business hours, and because multiple restaurants and shops are nearby it was unnecessary to build a new restroom.
During commission deliberations, Commissioner Doug Knauer expressed concern for the growing popularity of electric vehicles and said the grid may be taxed too heavily if all 24 units are used at once. He asked the city to begin planning ahead for this possibility.
Commissioners also discussed the possibility of adding a provision to the conditional use permit for the station that would allow re-examination of the permit if another station was in development. Commissioner Lynn Thompson said this could be an opportunity to look at the cumulative impact of more than one station, and could become grounds for denial of an additional facility if necessary.
Commissioners also expressed concern about the lack of bathroom facilities at the proposed station, telling Schoknecht and Sliger lacked foresight in failing to address this problem. However they acknowledged the city code does not require restrooms for such a facility and there was no grounds to deny the project for this oversight.
Commissioners voted Sept. 13 to deny Sharpe’s appeal 5-1, with Commission Chair Haywood Norton voting against. He had continued to express concerns regarding the narrowness of Clover Drive and the availability of street parking.
During the Oct. 11 meeting, the commission took up the appeal for a second vote. Without further discussion, the appeal was denied unanimously.
Oct. 18 update: Article changed to reflect that Charlie Sharpe is a mechanical, not electrical, engineer.