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Site of a proposed 72-unit apartment building on Garfield Street. (Photo by John Darling)

Busy year approving housing projects

More than 170 residential and greatly needed affordable units were approved by the planning commission this past year, according to commission Chair Roger Pearce during an update given to City Council at its Dec. 4 meeting.

“It’s been a pretty busy year. If there’s an overarching theme, I think it would be for both the legislative recommendations we’ve done and for the permit decisions a lot of them involved multi-family housing,” Pearce said, “which was encouraging to me after a year or two when there were no multi-family housing projects.”

Pearce said some of the approved projects this past year include:

A 33-unit subdivision on the corner of East Main Street and South Mountain Avenue;

A 33,000-square-foot lot of mixed use projects, including both residential units and commercial areas on Russell Street;

A 30-unit rent-restricted affordable housing project next to the Rogue Credit Union on Ashland Street;

A 17-unit project at the south end of Kestrel Parkway in the North Mountain Park area, which with later phases is planned to turn into 65 units;

A 15-unit project on the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Park Street; and

A 72-unit studio apartment complex at 188 Garfield St.

Some recommendations to the City Council this year included:

Annexation of a 5-acre light industrial site for rezoning as a 23-lot subdivision;

Amendments to the wildfire mitigation ordinance, which passed this fall;

The accessory rental unit amendments which make it easier to add an Accessory Residential Unit;

The Transit Triangle Overlay project, which just passed a first reading and will ease some of the building requirements to incentivize infill strategy for smaller units on the north end of town; and

Amendments to the housing element update in the city’s comprehensive plan (expected to come before the council in January).

Pearce said after discussion with Community Development Director Bill Molnar, he believes 2019 will show similar results: more housing.

He said there’s a proposed annexation in North Ashland coming up that could make way for 250 smaller units, and there’s an update for the regional housing strategy which he believes will bring more legislative decisions with it.

Pearce, who is an attorney, equated the actions of the Planning Commission to those of a judge. The commission provides recommendations to the City Council for most city documents and actions and they also issue permits for developments and the like.

“We’re applying facts to law, applying the application to the staff report and all the hearing testimony to the land use code and state law, and making a decision,” Pearce said.

He said people get heated about certain projects, but if the requirements are all met, the projects get permitted.

He said this past year saw only a single appeal, coincidentally also before the council at Tuesday’s meeting.

The appeal was for a 15-unit apartment complex with 60 bedrooms in six apartment buildings, a separate 221-square-foot laundry facility and a 30-space parking lot for the property at 880 Park St. The application also includes a tree removal permit for five of the seven trees on the site, including two large redwoods.

The council unanimously denied the appeal, adopting the commission’s findings and allowing the applicant to move forward with the project.

The appellant, Colby Morgan, neighbor to the proposed site, said he represents about 30 other neighbors. In the appeal he claimed:

The planning commission was shown illegal evidence by staff and the applicant after the record had closed;

There is no code for the proposed dwelling and that the project should be considered a dormitory rather than multi-family dwelling units;

Therefore, parking for dormitory-style housing should be considered instead of multi-family housing;

The tree protection plan is inadequate, and the tree protection for the project site’s trees and neighbor’s trees should be applied equally; and

That the traffic study is flawed by considering multi-family dwelling instead of “60 motoring adults.”

The apartments are designed like a dormitory in the fact that they have four separate bedrooms, shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen space. But they meet the multi-family dwelling definition in ways such as that the kitchen space is shared by four or fewer people and not by a whole floor. In that sense, any house in Ashland with four roommates could be considered a dormitory, Senior Planner Derek Severson said.

Severson said there was evidence shown after the fact, but it was stricken from the record and fully remedied the problem and the council agreed.

The tree protection plan will be revised to take into consideration of neighbors’ trees.

The project did not reach Public Work’s standards to require a traffic study, but the applicant conducted a basic one anyway.

Four other neighbors spoke in the public forum stating their concerns about traffic and parking.

Councilor Stephen Jensen said the council needs to rethink parking for these types of projects in the future.

“Some of the old formulas really don’t apply under the assumption that everybody’s going to have a car,” Jensen said. “More and more of the younger generation for sure are going without cars so hopefully this works out here.”

Councilor Rich Rosenthal said he doesn’t think the parking allocation is going to be enough.

“We can’t fix the code tonight,” Rosenthal said. “But it is a weakness.”

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

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