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Jackson County Sheriff's Office photoCrews search for Harold Hardesty along Bear Creek near his residence. The city of Ashland plans to buy the property.

City to buy Hardesty land for $1.2M

Plan to build wetlands to cool wastewater from treatment plant next door

The Ashland City Council voted Tuesday night to authorize a $1.2 million real estate transaction to acquire the 21-acre land adjacent to its wastewater treatment plant for a number of projects, including construction of a wetlands for wastewater cooling.

“(The land) addresses issues and challenges for various departments,” Councilor Rich Rosenthal said. “We are controlling our destiny with this purchase.”

The council unanimously voted to approve the transaction, which is set to close on June 3 per agreement with the seller.

The two tax lots at 1291 Oak St. were once home to former NASCAR racer Harold Hardesty, who walked off his property and disappeared in 2017. A periodic search was called off in April, a year after his disappearance, as the Sheriff’s Office indicated that he might have suicided based on his declining health, efforts to acquire a firearm and video footage of him carrying a case apparently containing a firearm when he left his residence last year.

His property was intiatlly listed for sale at $1.5 million by the Hardesty trust.

Public Works Director Paula Brown said the location and the size of the land “fit nicely with several goals” of the city, including the construction of a wetlands to cool down wastewater before it enters Bear Creek.

The 21-acre parcel will also provide space for a replacement of B Street utility equipment yard, a new training site for fire and police department, riparian improvements and a potential public parking lot, according to the staff report.

“(Without it), we don’t know what it would have cost us,” Brown said when asked by the council of the consequences of not purchasing the property. “This one — it’s just staring at us.”

Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi told the council a training site would allow the department to practice drills more often, as he also proposed for the site to be shared with police department.

“We have no facility that the department could do our trainings on regularly,” he said. “Our normal drills are difficult to do on city’s streets and parking lots, but we have made it work.”

Brown said staff hasn’t determined what to do with the existing house on the property, adding it could serve as office space or be sold.

The city will use funding from various departments to cover the purchase cost, with the wastewater fund contributing up to $720,000. Staff proposed that the city divest its property on B Street, which has been appraised at at least $1.8 million, to cover some of the costs.

“This is a forward-thinking move,” Councilor Stefani Seffinger said. “I like to see all the departments working together like this.”

Housing on East Nevada

The council also voted Tuesday night to move a land use amendment proposal on East Nevada Street to a second reading, after deferring it for a month.

The proposed subdivision of 20 to 23 units hit a wall at the first public hearing on March 20, as the council found its request for exceptions to be unjustified. The application, filed by Medford-resident David Young, had planned to partner with nonprofit Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity to build required affordable units.

The partnership would require a number of exceptions for the affordable units, including reducing the affordability deed restriction from 60 years to 30, not capping a maximum purchase price, and freeing the applicant from responsibilities and requirements once it handed the land off to a developer.

The council asked the applicant to revise its proposal at its meeting on March 20. Since then, the applicant has ended its potential partnership with Habitat, vowing to build the affordable units on its own.

“They have tried to make this work,” Councilor Dennis Slattery said. “And we will get some affordable housing units out of it. It’s a win-win.”

The council unanimously approved the proposal as recommended by staff. It didn’t place a condition on requiring the applicant to build three potential “accessory residential units.”

The applicant’s consultant, Amy Gunter, told the council that the condition would “kill the project” as the applicant won’t be able to provide enough parking or adequate storm water drainage.

The second reading is set for June 3.

City administrator plan

The council expects to pick a new city administrator by June 15, according to a timeline it approved Tuesday night.

The city hired a recruitment firm in February to conduct a national search for its next city administrator. The deadline, staff reported, was extended to May 11 due to a low number of applicants.

Human Resources Tina Gray told the council Tuesday night that the firm is vetting the pool to come up with its top 15 recommendations by the end of the month.

“At least five of them are women,” Gray said.

The council and the mayor will each get to select up to five candidates as their semifinalists. Candidates will then travel to Ashland between June 13 and 15 to go through a selection process, which includes panel interviews with the council, community stakeholders and staff.

The City Council also approved a criteria list of five elements, focusing on the candidates’ experience and leadership.

‘Revitalize Downtown’

The council voted to support the city’s application for a $125,000 grant to jump-start its “Revitalize Downtown Ashland” plan.

Ashland has conducted two studies to maximize its downtown transportation network in the last 15 years, Public Director Paula Brown said.

“I want to have an action plan — that’s what the grant will do,” she said, adding that her department wants to solve a number of problems including parking, truck delivery on East Main Street and circulation.

“I want it to be inclusive and that we look at all portions of downtown,” Brown said. “The grant is not huge, but it will help get things started.”

The Oregon Department of Transportation also supports the application, Brown said.

—Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.

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