Business owners argue against Croman Mill plan

Three Ashland business owners have submitted complaint letters to the Planning Commission over the Croman Mill project because they believe the project will stifle economic development in the city.

The commission will address the letters and three others from locals concerned by the project at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

The owners of AirScape Inc., IPCO Development and Mistletoe Business Park believe the plan to rezone the 70-acre south Ashland plot will restrict development — instead of encouraging it, as city officials hope.

"The plan, as it is proposed, is more of a deterrent to economic development than we've ever had," said Mark DiRienzo, owner of Mistletoe Business Park, which is adjacent to the Croman plot. "This just puts up more complicated and expensive barriers to economic development."

The city's Croman Mill plan has been in the works for two years. The new policy calls for rezoning the privately owned land to allow for offices, shops, low-key manufacturing plants, condos and a park. Developments would have to adhere to certain standards designed to increase sustainability and conserve natural resources.

The Croman Mill property owners support the plan, their representative, Mike Montero said at a meeting last month.

City planning officials believe the rezoning plan will attract businesses and help guide development in the area.

"The master planning efforts insure that the area will develop into a viable employment center, as well as in a manner which is consistent with the community's values and concerns," the city's report on the project states.

Planning officials could not be immediately reached for further comment.

DiRienzo said the Croman plan could hinder one of his development projects if the zoning on his property is changed, as has been proposed.

He is working with Ashland-based Organic Nation, which makes vodka, to build a distillery on part of his land. The project — which has received approval from the city, but has been delayed due to the economy — could be jeopardized if the zoning of his land changes, he said.

"That, to me, is a small example of the larger problem with the Croman Mill plan," he said.

Neil Smith, chief owner of AirScape Inc., which makes house fans, said the city's handling of the Croman Mill plan is one of the reasons he has decided to move his company from Ashland to Medford in the next 30 days.

"I saw this coming and I had an indication that Ashland is clueless with respect to meeting the needs of businesses," he said. "This is not going to help. This is not the kind of thing that brings business to town."

The commission is scheduled to vote on the plan at its Feb. 23 meeting. The vote has been delayed for several weeks because city officials are working to answer the commission's questions about the plan.

Some commission members have repeatedly expressed disapproval of the plan, so it is unclear whether the commission will vote to recommend that the City Council adopt it into city policy.

In addition to the business owners, the Oregon Department of Transportation, former Planning Commission member Marilyn Briggs and the city's Transportation Commission submitted letters to the commission. All of the letters expressed some concern with the Croman plan.

Briggs, who served on the commission from 1997 to 2005, said the project will hurt Ashland businesses and those seeking to relocate here.

"It disrespects existing property owners/businesses by overlaying their properties with new regulations and running roads through existing buildings," she wrote.

"It is not a 'Welcome to our Community' document."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or

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