Land swap negotiations dissolve

The city of Ashland's negotiations to swap land for affordable housing on Clay Street have broken down and the developer, Doug Irvine, says he'll go ahead with building townhouse condos on the stretch behind the YMCA.

The city took the opportunity to deny a false rumor that the land in question &

kept secret under executive session rules &

was park land.

"Park land can only be sold or exchanged for park land," said City Administrator Martha Bennett.

Keith Baldwin of Clay Street in Ashland claimed on the "Comment to the Council" e-mail list that the city is negotiating a trade of a 9.58-acre parcel of park land on Strawberry Lane at Westwood for a 10-acre parcel planned for development by Irvine on middle Clay Street.

Irvine said there have been discussions with the city but nothing came of them, and now he's moving forward with development of condos and townhouses in the $250,000 to $450,000 range, to be built later this year.

The city has three prime view parcels of land on Westwood, which it purchased in 1987 for a reservoir that was never built. These are non-park lands and are on the market now. It also has the 9.58-acre parcel of park land across Westwood, which will become a neighborhood park someday, said city Parks Director Don Robertson.

Senior Planner Brandon Goldman, who ran the city's housing program until recently, said there have been no discussions about trading park land for affordable housing. However, the city for the past couple years has been studying which surplus city land could be sold or used for affordable housing.

Bennett said the city will announce this spring which land could be used for that purpose.

Baldwin complained on the city list that city officials have refused to tell him about the land swap under discussion, because it's protected under executive session laws.

"This response misses or ignores the point," wrote Baldwin, who charged the city has no legal right to spend taxpayer money on affordable housing. He said the city has no shortage of rentals for service workers and the city should have hearings and get council approval before negotiating land swaps.

Goldman said the legal basis for city spending on affordable housing comes from the public need for housing for all income types, which it achieves through land purchases, reduced fees, zoning incentives, density bonuses and community development block grants, as "use of city regulatory powers."

There have been many rumors and calls to the city about trading of park land for affordable housing land, but, said Goldman, "it's not true at all." Exchange or sale of non-park land is an extensive process involving public hearings, he added, and the city can't use emergency powers in that process.

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