Council to study apartment stall

The Ashland City Council is taking a different approach after plans for an affordable housing project recently fell through.

The city of Ashland had hoped to team with a development firm, Kendrick Enterprises, and a nonprofit, ACCESS, Inc., to build affordable apartments atop a small city-owned parking lot on Lithia Way.

But problems with financing, meeting city land-use rules and preparing costly architectural plans to apply for a state grant delayed the project.

On Tuesday night, the City Council unanimously rescinded an agreement with Kendrick Enterprises and ACCESS to carry out the project.

But rather than seeking new affordable housing proposals for the parking lot, a council majority voted to investigate what forces might be stopping developers from building regular, market-rate apartments.

In recent years, several developers have said new apartment construction in Ashland is simply not profitable. That view has been echoed by Ashland Planning Commissioner and builder John Fields.

Councilor David Chapman said councilors, members of the Planning Commission and Ashland Housing Commission and city staff should host a meeting to research ideas for making apartment construction more cost-effective.

A council majority favored that approach.

Chapman said perhaps the city can ease its land-use regulations in areas such as building heights and parking requirements to make building apartments less expensive.

"In that case, some of our affordable housing problems would take care of themselves," he said.

Ashland Housing Program Specialist Brandon Goldman said that approach doesn't provide a short-term answer for what to do with the parking lot, but could address the larger issue of affordable housing and the community's vision for that problem.

Councilors Chapman, Alice Hardesty, Kate Jackson, Cate Hartzell and Russ Silbiger voted to host the meeting to investigate apartment construction barriers.

Councilor Eric Navickas voted against the plan.

"One of my biggest fears is using regulatory relief to build affordable housing"&

166;. I think it will result in such a negative impact on the downtown that it wouldn't be worth it," he said.

Navickas said he favors trying to build affordable apartments above the small city parking lot along with a second, larger city parking lot on Lithia Way. The smaller project alone did not provide enough units to qualify for federal tax credits, which could have made it more financially feasible.

Navickas said affordable apartments downtown would provide needed housing, especially for young people who work there.

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