City considers land swap to build affordable housing

Ashland city officials believe swapping high-end property it owns in the watershed for 10 acres developer Doug Irvine owns in town will lead to its biggest workforce housing project to date &

60 units &

and a centrally located park.

The city wants to trade three half-acre lots on Strawberry Lane and some cash for five acres of the Clay Street property to use for affordable housing.

The Parks and Recreation Commission proposes trading two acres of city land on Westwood Street for the remaining five acres on Clay Street for a neighborhood park and expansion of the city-owned YMCA soccer field.

The amount of the city cash payment on the deal will be determined after appraisals, officials said.

City commissions and the council will hold public hearings on the proposals in late April and May.

The complex swap has been in the works for several years, mostly in closed-door executive sessions. It was announced a month ago that the deal had broken down and Irvine was seeking permits to build a 107-unit development on the Clay Street property.

The announcement spurred affordable housing representatives and city officials to create a proposal that provides "a great opportunity for everyone and leaves the city with an inventory of affordable housing (land) for years to come," Irvine said.

Affordable housing is a long-term goal for Ashland, which has sought ways for essential service workers, such as teachers, police and firefighters, to live in a town afflicted with some of the state's highest housing prices.

"It would be the largest affordable housing development we've ever seen here a wonderful opportunity we've never had, on a large piece of property," said Senior Planner Brandon Goldman, Ashland's former affordable housing director. "It's very significant."

The development would feature a mix of apartments, townhouses and single-family homes, with the target resident for attached homes making 60 percent of median family income, or $31,740 a year, said Goldman. Also included would be free-standing, single-family units for those making 120 percent of median, or $63,480.

Goldman and City Administrator Martha Bennett stressed that the city wants to get public comments before deciding on the proposals.

The Strawberry-Westwood properties were bought in the 1980s for $90,000 for a water tank that was finally built elsewhere.

The swap will not violate the city policy of swapping open space only for other open space, said Bennett.

Although designated as park land, the Westwood property was not purchased with money from the city's 5 percent meals tax, said Goldman. The proposed trade would result in a larger, more centrally located park for the city, he added.

The swap would leave the city still in possession of 8 acres of its 10-acre Westwood parcel, which it would dedicate to a neighborhood park, with nearby residents determining its elements: possibly a naturescape, ball field, basketball court, Frisbee green, fountain or picnic tables, said Parks and Recreation Director Don Robertson.

He said he sees the park featuring a trail head for nearby systems, including trails off Hitt Road and down Wrights Creek to Highway 99.

The city retains ownership of affordable housing land in perpetuity through its Community Land Trust. For development, the city engages the Rogue Valley Community Development Corporation, Housing Authority of Jackson County and Habitat for Humanity, among others. Higher-end homes wouldn't meet the mission of these groups, so private developers would build those, said Goldman.

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