Another group of apartments in Ashland have been converted into condominiums. But this time, the transformation didn't involve a lengthy and politically charged land-use hearing.

This conversion took place downtown, where Ashland's condominium conversion ordinance doesn't apply.

"Condo conversion ordinances apply to multi-family residential zones," Brandon Goldman, Ashland housing specialist, said. "In commercial zones there is no land-use requirement that comes into play."

The condos in this case are in the south end of downtown, above the Underground Marketplace. Eight condos will replace 11 apartments. Owners of the condos did not want to talk about their project, saying they didn't want to get involved in city politics. The condos are owned by a company called 33 Third LLC, which is registered to Gary Hooper. City planning staff said that Ed Bemis has been filing building permits for the new condos.

In 2006, condo conversions became controversial when the Ashland City Council and Planning Commission considered amending the existing condo conversion ordinance. Goldman said word of the possible change to the ordinance created a slew of requests for conversion. In 2006, 54 apartments were converted to condos in six different projects.

"Because we were proposing a new ordinance," he said. "Some of the units came in before it was passed. It may have triggered pre-emptive condo conversions."

The council considered the ordinance amendment on June 19, but hasn't scheduled the issue on another agenda as of yet. The existing ordinance requires that 25 percent of the converted condos remain as affordable rental stock. The proposed ordinance would add additional requirements for affordable housing retention.

Goldman said having housing in the downtown is generally a good thing, as long as it remains real housing and not a part-time vacation home.

"Provided it remain a permanent dwelling unit for a resident of Ashland, it adds vitality to the downtown and something that should be promoted," he said. "It's a great place to live. The concern I have is conversion of apartments into condos that are then used as vacation homes or travellers units. Those don't benefit the city."

But, he added, he's not sure the economic conditions in Ashland are still ripe for converting apartments into condominiums.

"In 2005 and 2006 market conditions were prime for condo conversions," Goldman said. "Low interest rates allowed people to buy, and the appreciation trend gave people the assurance that what they were buying was something that was going to go up in value. We may have seen that trend peak."

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