City favors 'recession extensions'

A City Council majority voted to move forward on a proposal to grant stalled developments 18-month "recession extensions" so city approval periods don't run out before construction can start.

The council voted on Tuesday night to have city staff develop an amendment to the city's land use ordinance that would allow additional 18-month extensions. Developers already can get one 18-month extension for projects that have gone through the planning process and won approval.

The issue will come back to the council at a future meeting for a final vote. The Ashland Planning Commission previously split on whether recession extensions are a good idea.

Other Oregon cities, such as Portland and Newberg, have adopted the extensions.

Councilor Russ Silbiger joined Councilors Greg Lemhouse, Kate Jackson and David Chapman in voting to move forward on drafting legal language to allow recession extensions.

Silbiger said the extensions would put people back to work.

"It's our responsibility to look at getting things moving again here," he said.

Lemhouse said he believed it would be unconscionable not to grant recession extensions to projects that had made it through the planning process, but then lost their funding because of the economic downturn.

"We can't look at these as projects. These are people," he said.

Chapman said he favored the extensions, but when the issue comes back to the council for a final vote, he wants the extension rules to be strict. He said 12-month extensions should perhaps be considered.

Councilors Eric Navickas and Carol Voisin were not sold on the concept and voted against the extensions.

Before the economic collapse, the nation and Ashland were seeing an unprecedented bubble of speculation, with developers proposing high-end projects like pricey condominiums that did not fit Ashland, Navickas said.

"The belief was the bubble would never burst," he said.

Construction might actually be able to move forward more quickly if approvals for those inappropriate developments were allowed to lapse and developers started over in the planning process with projects that were suited to the times, Navickas said.

Ashland Community Development Department Director Bill Molnar said a handful of developments will lose their approval this coming spring if the extensions are not allowed. He guessed that developers of one or two dozen projects would ultimately seek the extra extensions.

"They're just at a standstill," he said.

Many developers have not been able to get financing for their projects, according to city staff.

Councilors Silbiger, Lemhouse, Jackson and Chapman also voted to have staff prepare an ordinance that would start the clock for beginning work on development projects after all appeals of projects are complete. Councilors Navickas and Voisin opposed the idea.

As city law now stands, a developer who wins approval from the city for a project, and then wins again when that project is appealed to court or the state Land Use Board of Appeals, would not be able to build if the city approval timeline had expired during the appeal process.

"It's not fair that you could lose your project through absolutely no fault of your own," Silbiger said.

However, councilors who voted on both sides of the issue also worried about projects that take several years to get through the appeals process. Conditions in Ashland could change considerably during that time, they said.

Chapman said he knows of a project that took 13 years to get through the appeals process.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or

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