Population forecast riles city officials

Ashland could have trouble providing enough land for future businesses and homes if Jackson County doesn't change its low population forecast for Ashland, city officials fear.

The low forecast could also hamper efforts to provide adequate water, sewage and road systems.

Even though Ashland has long had an average population growth rate of about 1.35 percent per year, the county has estimated that the city will grow by 0.28 percent each year by 2040.

That would account for 2,176 more people in 2040 — 3,001 fewer people than the city of Ashland estimates it will already have by 2026.

Oregon cities are required to maintain 20 year supplies of land for homes and businesses within their urban growth boundaries. Those boundaries can be expanded to maintain adequate supplies.

If the need arises for Ashland to expand its urban growth boundary, it could have trouble proving that need because of the low Jackson County population forecast, Ashland Community Development Department Director Bill Molnar said.

"The figures that are in the plan right now are significantly below what we would estimate," he said.

The low population growth estimates could also throw off long-term plans for water, sewer and transportation infrastructure, Molnar said.

City staff members are drafting a letter to be sent to the county asking for the Ashland population forecast to be increased. The letter must be approved by the Ashland City Council, but councilors already voiced support for its contents at a June 15 meeting.

The population forecasts for Ashland and other Rogue Valley cities are tied in with a multi-year, multi-city effort to create a plan to deal with a projected doubling of the valley population in forty to fifty years.

Talent, Phoenix, Medford, Central Point and Eagle Point all designated urban reserves — places where they expect to expand their urban growth boundaries in the future.

The valley-wide planning effort, known as Regional Problem Solving, aims to protect valuable farm land from urban sprawl. However, the draft plan has not been able to save all farmland.

Ashland did not designate an urban reserve. City officials instead said they would focus on high-density building inside Ashland's existing urban growth boundary.

That may have created confusion that Ashland didn't plan to grow in terms of population, although it's still not clear why the county population forecast for Ashland is so low.

A low population forecast for Ashland has allowed other Rogue Valley cities to have higher population forecasts — and to designate more land for potential growth through the Regional Problem Solving process.

"They were able to justify grabbing larger areas of land," Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas said.

City councilors want the county to increase its population forecast for Ashland and lower the forecasts for other cities.

City councilors also want the Regional Problem Solving plan to call on other cities in the valley to increase density inside their own urban growth boundaries, and to promote dense, compact development that makes it easier for people to use mass transit.

Dense development in other cities could preserve 878 of 1,200 acres of prime agricultural land that is at risk from development because the land has been included in urban reserves, said Sarah Vaile, project coordinator for Rogue Advocates.

The nonprofit group is working to preserve Southern Oregon farmland and to promote vibrant urban centers, according to Rogue Advocates members.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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