Navickas on wrong side of environment

Things like last night's vote by Councilor Eric Navickas are what make it hard for many of us to become "environmentalists."

When a project widely hailed as one of the most environmentally progressive project in the state is opposed by one of the area's most prominent environmental activists, it becomes easy for many to throw up their hands in frustration. The common cry, "when is it ever good enough?" rings true on this particular vote.

Navickas cast the lone vote of opposition against a proposed subdivision that straddles the city limits below downtown. Navickas, an environmental activist who won a seat on the Ashland City Council in 2006, cited the potential for sprawl in voting against the project, which had been recommended for approval by city staff.

The argument is disingenuous, at best.

This "sprawl" is located roughly one-half mile from the center of town, adjacent to the Ashland Dog Park and about a one-minute walk for school children to Helman Elementary School. Through a cooperative effort that included the likes of the Ashland Planning Commission, the Ashland Community Development Department, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission, the city of Ashland Conservation Division and Ashland Electric Department, and the Oregon Department of Energy, the project was crafted to meet the needs of the developers and the city. Many consider it ground-breaking.

This project's approval will bring badly needed revenue for the city's planning department, the extension of Bear Creek Greenway, improvements to the dog park and the construction of 15 affordable housing units.

Project developers Greg and Valri Williams are longtime Ashland residents and business owners who commissioned an innovative project that represents the philosophies of the city. While some might argue the best environmental approach is no growth or development, the state of Oregon and the natural increase of population make such a value impossible. Lending support to a best-practices type of development puts a high value on environmental concern.

Navickas' vote suggests an even higher value the councilor places on throwing a wrench in anything that might lead to growth, and more importantly reveals his strong anti-business motivation.

Behind the vote lurks a personal battle Navickas and Williams have waged over the expansion of Mt. Ashland Ski Area. Navickas has been the most ardent of opponents to the expansion for years and Williams is on the board for the Mt. Ashland Association, one of its strongest supporters. How much did Navickas' personal feelings toward Williams color his vote?

The council's approval of this project is a significant victory for Ashland. It is also an effective barometer of the success of environmental principles becoming part of the future mainstream standards. This project pushes regard for the environment to a level probably thought impossible a decade ago.

Unfortunately, one of the area's leading environmentalists is on the wrong side of this vote, and the question grows in intensity, "when is it ever good enough?"

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