Illustration by Kira Rubenthaler* Mayor John Morrison votes only to break ties.

Contrary to what many residents have stated, Ashland City Councilors Eric Navickas, Alice Hardesty and Cate Hartzell are not an anti-development voting bloc.

An analysis of council votes on nine development issues since Navickas took office at the beginning of 2007 showed that a council majority voted in every case in ways that could promote more growth or that allowed specific developments.

Hardesty and Hartzell were already on the council when they were joined by Navickas in January 2007.

On only one occasion did Navickas, Hardesty and Hartzell vote together to limit development. But they were outnumbered when Mayor John Morrison joined three other councilors in allowing construction of a building close to the roadway of North Main Street.

The majority of Navickas' votes &

five out of the nine &

have been to limit growth. However, he voted alone four of those times.

Hardesty and Hartzell each had two votes to limit development. They voted "no" together just once.

— — Ashland City Councilors Russ Silbiger, Kate Jackson and David Chapman

Because of his concern about increased traffic, Councilor David Chapman had one vote to try to stop the conversion of a barn on East Main Street into a Willow Wind Educational Facility auditorium. Hartzell was the only councilor to join him on that vote. Both have served on the Ashland Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission.

Councilors Kate Jackson and Russ Silbiger did not block development in any of the nine votes examined by the Tidings. As mayor, Morrison votes only to break a tie.

The Tidings undertook the analysis in part because of many readers' comments left on the newspaper's Web site stating that Navickas, Hartzell and Hardesty &

or "Navihartzesty" &

are "obstructionist" councilors who "vote in lock-step" and are "fighting virtually every project."

"It's pretty interesting to look at the record and the way we did vote," Navickas said when presented with the results of the analysis. "The rumors around the community and what the record shows is much different. We are pretty independent. Often times, it surprises me the way we divide on different issues."

Navickas said he doesn't consider himself to be necessarily anti-growth, but rather that he favors conscious growth and a focus on in-fill rather than sprawl.

Hardesty said some people claimed she and Hartzell were voting together all the time. But when she looked at votes across a range of issues, Hardesty found she and Hartzell vote together about half of the time, she said.

"There's a misperception on the part of some people in Ashland &

not everyone, but some &

that Eric, Cate and I vote as a block. That's not true. There's a misperception that we vote against growth. That's not true either," Hardesty said. "I would favor smart growth, managed growth, the right kind of growth."

Process too slow?

Although no City Council majorities voted to block development during 2007 and the first part of 2008, the question remains open for debate about whether Ashland's planning process is unnecessarily cumbersome.

In March 2007, a council majority voted to reconsider a narrow Ashland Planning Commission ruling that allowed a building on North Main Street to be built close to the road. The council heard the case in May 2007 and ultimately affirmed the decision of the Planning Commission &

but only after causing months of delay while architect Raymond Kistler went through the council review of his project. The council, however, was trying to resolve two sets of contradictory land use laws that have bogged down other developments.

In November 2007, residents Greg and Valri Williams won City Council approval for their 68-unit Verde Village subdivision of regularly sized homes, small cottages and affordable townhouses that will be constructed near the Dog Park. Navickas was the only councilor to vote against the project.

The Ashland Planning Commission gathered input and considered the project during four of its meetings, and the project came before the City Council during another four meetings.

Williams said some members of his design team were used to the quicker pace of the planning process in other communities such as Grants Pass and Eugene.

"They were surprised at how slow the process is in Ashland. It moves at a glacial pace," he said.

Hartzell said that, based on the complexity of the Verde Village application, which included a land swap, she believed the process did not take much time at all.

"The amount of time that the Planning Commission and council in separate venues spend on any project is widely variable," she said. "Some things go by very quickly. There might be people who ask if it was too quickly. On others, people may say, 'How did we spend so much time on this?' The presumption is that it's the council taking too long. But with some of these projects, there's a great deal of complexity."

Williams said he didn't feel that the City Council was obstructionist or that there was a block of councilors against his project. He said he did feel that Navickas was biased against the development. Williams is the past president of the Mt. Ashland Association and Navickas has long opposed the proposed expansion of the Mt. Ashland Ski and Snowboard Resort.

The Planning Commission and City Council are in the midst of a review of Ashland's land-use laws to see if contradictory rules can be weeded out and the process be made more stream-lined. Williams welcomed that review, although he feared it may become politicized, he said.

Having a paid hearings officer review cases would also improve the system, he said.

Williams said he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on design and planning for Verde Village &

with no guarantee that the project would ever win approval.

"The risk is huge in this town. I know a number of builders who will not build or develop in this town," he said. "They don't feel it's a good bet to get projects through. That ultimately brings the cost up. Someone has to bear the extra costs, and unfortunately, it's the homebuyers."

Williams said the City Council also imposed conditions on the Verde Village subdivision without asking about potential negative impacts.

The project was designed so that the market-rate cottages and houses will be built with a variety of environmentally friendly features. The nonprofit Rogue Community Development Corporation will build 15 affordable townhouses.

A council majority added conditions that the townhouses be oriented to take advantage of solar power, have good insulation and include other features during their construction so that upgrades such as solar panels can be added if RVCDC wins a grant. Members of the majority reasoned that building to green standards will help ensure that utility bills are reduced for the low-income residents who will help construct the homes and then live there.

It was Chapman who made the motion to require green construction for the townhouses. Navickas and Hartzell voted against the added conditions after Hartzell voiced concerns about the added cost.

Hartzell did earn the disapproval of fellow councilors when the Tidings reported in October 2007 that she had requested records of Community Development Director David Stalheim's schedule, phone calls, e-mails and notes on conversations. Stalheim accepted a job in Washington after less than nine months in the Ashland position.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .