City boosts affordable, green housing

A City Council majority has shown its support for green, affordable housing by waiving $38,295 in planning and engineering fees for a 15-unit housing project near the Dog Park.

A vote to waive the fees came on Tuesday night even after Ashland Community Development Department Director Bill Molnar warned that a waiver could further strain the revenue-strapped department.

A construction slowdown in Ashland that came with the national economic recession means the Community Development Department is collecting fewer fees.

Molnar said the housing project already is automatically receiving a waiver of $97,000 in system development charges under city rules meant to encourage affordable housing.

It was up to the council's discretion to decide whether to grant the further $38,295 waiver of planning and engineering fees.

"I took a cautious review of the request. Everyone's aware of the revenue changes in the department," Molnar said.

In the past several years, two other affordable housing projects have received the automatic waivers of system development charges, and then also won planning and engineering fee waivers, City Administrator Martha Bennett said.

The new affordable housing project, which will be called Rice Park, was approved in 2007 as part of the Verde Village subdivision of green market-rate homes.

The developers of Verde Village homes had proposed from the beginning that the market rate homes be green.

As a condition of approval, members of the 2007 council mandated that the townhouse-style affordable housing units be green as well, even though that increased the costs of each home by thousands of dollars.

City Councilor Greg Lemhouse, who was not on the council in 2007, voted with the council majority on Tuesday night to waive the planning and engineering fees for the affordable housing project.

He agreed that the city government is facing financial difficulties, but said, "They're doing everything we've asked them to do and it's more expensive."

Lemhouse said the city is committed to support the green affordable housing since the council put the green requirements on the affordable portion of the development.

Councilor David Chapman voted with Lemhouse, and also with Councilors Carol Voisin and Kate Jackson, to waive the fees. Councilor Russ Silbiger was absent and Mayor John Stromberg votes only to break ties.

Chapman said a City Council majority did not require a planned 60-unit affordable housing project on Clay Street to be green, but gave that development huge financial incentives.

The city provided $620,000 and traded city land valued at $1.7 million to help the Clay Street project. The Jackson County Housing Authority and the state government are also contributing money on that $11.39 million project.

Eric Navickas was the only councilor to vote against granting the fee waiver to the affordable housing project that is part of the Verde Village subdivision, citing the financial impact to the city budget.

He was the only member of the 2007 council to vote against approving the Verde Village subdivision.

Rogue Valley Community Development Corporation Executive Director John Wheeler said he was pleased by the council majority's vote to grant the fee waivers for the Rice Park project. RVCDC is organizing the effort to build the affordable homes.

"I think it's a wonderful gesture of theirs in support of sustainable, green, affordable housing," he said.

Building the affordable housing to meet Earth Advantage Platinum certification standards and to make them "net zero ready" will be costly, Wheeler said.

Steps to make them "net zero ready" — in which the homes will have the potential to produce as much energy as they consume — means RVCDC will have to install wiring and equipment so the homes could have solar panels.

The cost per house for that is $4,300, Wheeler said.

Among other costs, another $6,200 will be needed for rainwater cisterns, pumps and filters so the homes can reuse rainwater, he said.

The low-income families that will live in the homes will work for a year on construction. They are likely to start work later this month, Wheeler said.

Contractors will do the more skilled work like putting in electrical and plumbing systems, he said.

Wheeler said although with the fee waivers the project is not putting money into city coffers, it will pump $2 million into the local economy as the homes are built.

He said Greg and Valri Williams, who own the land for Verde Village, donated land for the affordable housing component of the project.

The Williams' also had planned to provide $200,000 in infrastructure work for the housing project, but construction of the 53 market rate homes has been postponed.

RVCDC will have to cover those infrastructure costs and hope to be reimbursed later by Greg and Valri Williams, Wheeler said.

Valri Williams said she is in the process of looking for financing for Verde Village.

"We're ready to break ground in two weeks if we could get financing. Investors are cautious and banks are extremely cautious," she said.

Wheeler said he was told that if banks see the word "development" in a request for financing these days, they will reject the proposal.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or

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