At least three Planning Commissioners are unhappy with redevelopment plans for the Croman Mill site — and there's little they can do about it, they found out at their Tuesday night meeting.
"All the sudden I'm going, 'Why are we even sitting here if we already have a plan?'" said Michael Dawkins, chair of the commission.
The City Council has already approved the plans and the commission is now tasked with creating specific land-use rules for the 65 acre property to determine what can be built there in the future. In February councilors decided that the plans should allow for the creation of a light industrial area, business offices, a new street system, a park and possibly housing.
Located east of Tolman Creek Road, the privately owned Croman Mill property is the largest piece of undeveloped land in the city.
Dawkins said he believes the land should be reserved strictly for industrial manufacturing, because it's the only place left in the city where that's feasible.
"If this plan goes the way it's supposed to go, what I think we're saying is, 'In the future there will be no industrial or light engineering in Ashland,'" he said.
Commissioner Debbie Miller said she agreed with Dawkins and added that the project could affect how sustainable Ashland becomes.
"I would much rather see us focus on economic health rather than economic growth," she said. "You could put your office buildings elsewhere."
While she didn't weigh in on the office space vs. manufacturing plants debate, Commissioner Melanie Mindlin said the Croman plans troubled her because she thinks they weren't thoroughly analyzed from an economic perspective.
"The main concern that I've had with the plan all along has to do with the lack of an economic development plan that it ties into and that we really don't have," she said.
Others on the eight-member commission said it was important to focus on the small details of the plan they can change, instead of discussing grievances with the overall plan. Commissioner Mike Morris was absent from the meeting.
"What we do have is a plan that's on the table and that the City Council has adopted," said Commissioner Pam Marsh. "The general concept has already been determined. Those are our marching orders at this moment."
Commissioner Dave Dotterrer said he wants to allow as much flexibility in the zoning requirements as possible, keeping options for housing, office and industrial development open for developers.
"I think giving the folks that are laying this out more options ... is a good idea," he said. "We don't know what we're going to need five or 10 years from now."
Beginning May 26, commissioners will work on plans for the site at their second meeting every month for six to nine months. They will determine where the elements of the plan — such as streets and offices — can be placed on the land.
City officials are considering forming an advisory committee made up of members of Ashland's other commissions, to work with Planning Commissioners on the project, said Bill Molnar, the city's community development director.
"The mayor (John Stromberg) is interested in terms of seeing how we can utilize the expertise of some of our other commissioners who have an interest in some of these projects," Molnar said.
Responding to the Planning Commissioners who are uneasy about the plans for the Croman Mill site, Molnar said even after the commission has finished fine tuning the zoning requirements, developers could ask the city to alter them.
"Even once we establish the final plan, it's still going to float a little," he said. "Ultimately the council has the ability to make plan amendments."
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.