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Proposal for more housing in commercial and employment areas goes to public hearing

Ashland Town Hall

Last week, Ashland City Council advanced draft amendments to the code regarding residential standards for mixed-use development – defined as the combination of housing and commercial or light industrial uses on the same site – in the city’s commercial and employment areas.

The city currently allows a maximum of 35% of the ground floor of a mixed-use building to be used for housing, with a few exceptions in the Transit Triangle and the North Mountain Neighborhood District shopping area, according to the board documents.

The proposed changes would allow 65% first-floor residential use in multi-storey and mixed-use developments in zones C-1 and E-1, with the goal of opening up more rental housing and small units, said community development director Bill Molnar.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of the draft ordinance, which includes a proposal to remove the maximum density cap for buildings on commercial and employment land, Molnar said.

“This has the effect of allowing more units in the same three-dimensional volume of the building,” said senior planner Brandon Goldman. “It’s also in line with some of the rules the state is proposing under climate-friendly zones.”

According to the state, rule-making for climate-friendly and equitable communities focuses on strengthening the administrative rules surrounding transportation and housing planning in Oregon’s eight urban areas with more than 50,000 residents, including Medford and Ashland.

Goldman said the code changes would apply to buildings two stories or more on lots of 10 acres or less, not buildings downtown.

During the discussion, councilors reviewed the 2021-2041 Housing Capacity Analysis, adopted by council on August 17, 2021, which recommended policy changes to meet housing needs. Basic strategies included ensuring an adequate supply of available and serviced land, creating housing development opportunities and aligning housing planning with the Climate and Energy Action Plan.

“He tries to strike the right balance in terms of finding new housing opportunities, but also wants to create an environment where you can attract business,” Molnar said at the Jan. 4 business board meeting.

Overall, the aim of the project is to “give more flexibility in employment areas to respond to fluctuations and changes in the economy and in housing demand,” according to council documents.

Objectives include maintaining an inventory of employment plots to encourage business development, increasing the supply of “low-cost” rental and purchase housing, and encouraging development in low-cost areas. areas of little interest for other projects and / or close to public transport and services.

An analysis by Fregonese Associates of the building land inventory, permits and 10 years of employment data concluded that there is sufficient land for the city’s future employment needs.

“By making this change to your code, you are not significantly hindering the amount of business and employment land you will need in the future,” said Scott Fregonese.

Councilor Tonya Graham highlighted the need for family and median income housing in the city and asked if lifting maximum density requirements would attract the types of housing desired.

“I have this fear… that this will be put to good use and that we will then find ourselves in a world of expensive condos that remain empty, as we frankly have now,” said Mayor Julie Akins.

Goldman said the housing capacity analysis identified a need for one, two and three bedroom units, and an analysis from the Transit Triangle showed the majority of Ashland households are made up of one or two people.

Fregonese said the Transit Triangle’s analysis also places bedrooms at the “sweet spot” in development modeling in terms of cost per square foot. Forcing developers to build larger, more expensive units was an “unintended consequence” of the current density cap, he said.

Over the past decade, the city has issued 50 commercial permits, including eight in Zone C-1 and 17 in Zone E-1. The other permits were issued for public projects. The city’s inventory includes 175 acres in C-1 and 273 acres in E-1, of which 12.5 acres and 50.4 acres are buildable respectively, Fregonese said. Almost 80% of building plots are one acre or less.

“The flexibility to have less commercial space on the ground floor in some of these small lots really makes a lot of projects more achievable in terms of ROI from a developer’s perspective,” he said. declared.

A 2007 economic opportunity analysis predicted a land deficit based on 15,220 jobs expected by 2027. State data from 2019 showed a shortfall of 10,237 jobs within Ashland’s urban growth limits. , and 20% of the jobs are in residential areas, Fregonese said.

“A 30% job growth would not require the consumption of vacant land,” he said, citing the analysis. “Ashland can continue to grow its employment base without using vacant land, either through redevelopment or through creative and adaptive reuse and creating more jobs in a specific location. “

Goldman said if an updated analysis of economic opportunities showed a surplus of E-1 and C-1 land, allowing for more residential use, the city could examine the rationale for changes to the ordinances such as the increase. 100% ground floor residential area affordability to median income households through deed restriction and rental requirements with respect to ownership.

City Manager Joe Lessard said the economic opportunity analysis update was “overdue” and staff will compile information for a council working session on this next “milestone” of the project.

Akins said employers often cite a limited housing inventory as a barrier to establishing a business in Ashland, where employees may not find housing that they can afford.

“It’s hard to get employers to a place where your employees can’t afford to live,” Fregonese said.

Another consideration, he said, is the large population of elderly and “empty nesters,” many of whom occupy three- and four-bedroom units that could be used for family accommodation. Part of the project is an attempt to expand options for people currently using housing stock “that they may not actually need,” Fregonese said.

Councilor Stephen Jensen brought forward a motion asking staff to move forward with the code changes and schedule a public hearing for the first reading at the February 1 city council meeting. The motion was carried 5-1, Graham voting no.

“There are adjustments that could be made, but the groundwork is good – the groundwork has been requested at all levels by developers and citizens,” Jensen said.

Councilor Stefani Seffinger said that recognizing the need for affordable housing and increasing construction costs, the project should also consider the value of universal housing design and needs based on home entrepreneurship and trends. work.

Graham said the proposed structure did not include provisions to prevent or discourage the construction of “uninhabited condominiums” and was inconsistent with what council identified as the community’s most needed housing.

“I have absolutely no interest in facilitating the development of the kind of housing that we don’t want in this community,” Graham said. “What I see is that we are giving something, but we are not making sure that we are getting adequate value for what we are giving.”

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