Helman Baths wins approval

It took 17 months for 17 new homes to win approval in the Ashland land-use process. But, on Tuesday night, the Ashland Planning Commission voted to approve the single-family home subdivision on the site of the former Helman Baths property.

The project first came before the commission in March of 2006. Since then, the project has been through 10 public meetings before both the planning commission and the Ashland City Council. The project raised controversy last year because it was unclear if the warm sulfur spring &

the water source for the pool that was the centerpiece of Helman Baths, one of Ashland's first tourist attractions &

was properly protected. The developer, Devian Aguirre, agreed to put the spring, long since covered by a well, into a separate lot that can be enjoyed by residents of the subdivision.

The subdivision started at the planning commission seeking for outline approval. Though the commission approved the project, a group of residents &

including the developer &

appealed the process to the Ashland City Council. The council agreed with the commission's approval, and the subdivision then returned to the planning commission for final plan approval on Tuesday. New subdivisions are required to get both outline and final plan approval.

The commission voted 7-1 to approve the project Tuesday with Commissioner Tom Dimitre voting against it and Commissioner Olena Black recusing herself from the hearing.

"I don't feel like I can judge this one objectively," Black said at the onset of the hearing. She left the council chambers for the duration of the hearing, "I'm frustrated by the process," she said.

Dimitre wanted more proof that the spring did not have an associated water right, another bone of contention last year. Aguirre supplied a letter from project landscape architect Kerry KenCairn saying she spoke to the watermaster and concluded it did not have a water right associated with it. Still Dimitre wanted more documentation.

"I don't think that met the intent of our request," Dimitre said. "If we could resolve that I would be happy."

Ashland resident Art Bullock raised several issues with the project, including nearby streets not being up to city standards and impervious surfaces being used on a pedestrian and bike path through the subdivision.

City attorney Richard Appicello said the commission did not need to consider whether streets were up to standards because the council, when the project was before that body, had already dealt with that issue. He said the City Council determined none of the applicable roads were major streets.

"The council rejected the interpretation offered by Bullock as it ignored the word 'major,'" he said, noting that the ordinance in question reads that all "major" roads shall be improved.

The developer agreed to put in pervious surfaces near trees on the path.

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