Ashland moves forward on railroad property cleanup

What was once an emergency did not make even the footnotes section of the Ashland City Council meeting Tuesday.

The council was to finalize its policies on marijuana grows in residential areas given the fact that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s new rules went into effect Jan. 4. The council preliminarily agreed Dec. 15 to raise the number of outdoor plants to four for recreational use and six for medical card holders. Indoor grows would not be regulated by city ordinance. But they ran out of time hearing public testimony about a controversial public art piece and discussing providing a fire-fighting water line to a residential care facility. The marijuana rules will have to wait until the next council meeting on Jan. 19.

Earlier fears were that if the City Council did not create rules around marijuana it might be too late to do so as applicants would be grandfathered in with state rules. But city attorney David Lohman says applications cannot be considered complete by the OLCC without the city’s sign off.

“The delay won’t have any impact because they (applicant's) won’t have a completed application until they get a statement of land use compatibility,” Lohman said. When asked if that will delay applications, Lohman said it’s not likely as the state is backlogged.

Another no decision came out of hearing about allowing a 44-bed residential care facility on Highway 99 at Valley View Road north of Ashland to tap into the city water line. Nine people testified, all in favor, of allowing the “Village at Valley View” to connect to a city water line on their property for sprinklers and fire suppression.

The center, still to be built between TC Chevrolet and Lithia Springs Resort, is not within Ashland city limits, though it is within the urban growth boundar, and city staff have recommended against making this exception. Yet those who testified, including a representative from Lithia Springs, pleaded with the councilors, saying the Rogue Valley is woefully short of care homes for a growing number of people stricken with Alzheimer's and they need to be protected in case of fire.

They argued a 45,000-gallon water tank on site would not be enough protection in case of fire for 44 people locked in the facility at night. The council heard testimony and decided to hear more in their next meeting. (This paragraph has been changed to reflect that facility residents would be confined to the facility, not their rooms, at night.)

They did, however, make a decision about cleaning up the old Union Pacific Railroad property between Clear Creek Drive and Rogue Place, south of East Hersey Street. The site, 20 acres in total, is across the tracks from A Street, the northerly boundary of Ashland's historic Railroad District. The Department of Environmental Quality has ordered a clean up and the city of Ashland holds the deed.

The level of cleanup dictates how the land can be used and the value of the property. There are three levels: a total cleanup which makes the area safe for 30 years for residential use, an urban use cleanup which allows for residential occupancy for 25 years and a third tier which would allow for business and industrial use.

Given Ashland’s minuscule vacancy rate for rental housing, hovering around 1 percent depending on which survey you believe, Mayor John Stromberg urged the council to vote in favor or residential grade cleanup in order to accommodate affordable housing.

City staff indicated Union Pacific would agree to the second level and additionally agree to move contaminated material out by rail car as opposed to trucks. The council voted unanimously for second level cleanup to begin as soon as possible. Councilor Carol Voisin urged city administrators to, “use strong language to make sure they keep their promises since sometimes large corporations make promises they don’t keep.”

Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins is a journalism instructor at SOU and author of “Common Miracles: Gifts from a Grateful Universe.” Email her at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

 

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