Neighbors wary of SOU plan

Southern Oregon University's proposed 10-year plan goes before the Ashland Planning Commission on Tuesday, and the latest version of the plan provides for the Ecology Center of the Siskiyou's community garden, although some garden members and supporters are concerned the garden is in danger.

Between rumor and changes in the 2020 plan, confusion exists as to what will exactly happen concerning the garden and the planned faculty village that will surround it.

The garden's status has changed in each of three different proposals. The proposal to be presented to the Planning Commission keeps the garden in its current location, between Ashland and Henry streets.

"Earlier in the process, we looked at moving it to the north end of the campus, it would have given the garden more land to expand," said Eric Ridenour, urban designer at SERA in Portland and author of SOU's current plan. "The plan as it stands now keeps it where it is."

Ridenour said it was never an option to completely get rid of the garden, but to give it the best land available. In the end, moving the garden to another location was not the best decision.

"We got feedback on the issue, and we saw the logic of keeping it where it is," Ridenour said. "There was an investment by the group in the location and the soil."

According to the 2020 plan, there will be changes to the site, including a new walkway leading to the garden, and a more manicured general appearance. The site will be in the vicinity of a proposed faculty village. The plan states: "The gardens should be developed and maintained to be neat and welcoming," with the specific goal to "Enhance the ECOS garden into a campus and community amenity." The plan also makes room for another "potential" ECOS garden at the north end of campus, near the soccer field and railroad tracks.

"With a little TLC, the garden is well on its way to being a flagship part of the plan," said Ridenour.

Although these provisions exist in the current plan, garden and community members are not so sure of the sincerity and sense of SOU's intentions.

"It seems that they are sneaking things in and changing minor things just to make people happy," said Garden Member, Rivers Brown. "It's either agenda-driven stealth operations or a lack of sensitivity. They keep sliding things around and co-opting our ideas to make it seem like they have a conscience."

Brown is unique among dissenters of the plan in that he is the only person who lives on campus. His Ashland Street property is bordered by the University on three sides; the garden is located just beyond his back yard.

Faculty village

Much of the concern is over the proposed faculty village, which will place two-story structures fronting both Henry and Ashland Streets. Earlier proposals designated more housing, the latest revision calls for less. Brown believes the structures will mar the single dwelling neighborhood, whereas Ridenour said the two-story buildings

are "The right building type to transition from campus to community."

University Public Affairs Officer James Beaver said there were mailings to community members on two occasions to inform residents about informational power-point presentations to seek out suggestions concerning the plan. Both were sparsely attended.

Brown believes SOU's process was flawed.

"There were some glitches in the card mailings," Brown said. "Some weren't sure if they got the cards, and there were seven or eight neighbors that were sure they did not get the cards. I did not find out about any of this until it was in the paper in March, and I live inside the campus."

Brown believes the university is missing a chance to do the right thing for the neighborhood and is mounting an opposition to the plan.

"This is going to be the summer issue in Ashland," he said.

SOU's 2020 Master Plan goes before the Ashland Planning Commission on Tuesday. The public hearing is at 7 p.m. in the Ashland Civic Center. Information is available at the Ashland Planning Department on Winburn Way. Call 488-5305 for details.

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