Story and photos by Julie French

Tempers are flaring over the fate of a few acres of land high in the hills on the west edge of town.

City parks commissioners met Tuesday with neighbors for a tour of the Westwood property near the end of Strawberry Lane and heard arguments that the commission had acted too secretly about a potential sale of the property.

Commissioners are considering selling up to two of the 10 acres that make up the Westwood property and using the proceeds to purchase other, more centrally located park land. Both the city and the parks commission have been eyeing a 10-acre parcel of land on lower Clay Street owned by Doug Irvine for two separate uses &

affordable housing and an additional public park.

At one time, the city proposed swapping property across the street from Westwood plus additional cash for the Clay Street property, then reselling a portion of the Clay Street land to the parks department. Parks commissioners stressed, however, that proceeds from the Westwood property would go only toward the purchase of additional parks property, not affordable housing.

Money from a sale of Westwood could also be used to purchase other properties identified as desirable under the Parks, Trails and Open Space 10-year plan, or to develop existing parks properties, according to Parks and Recreation Director Don Robertson. There is little money available without selling excess park land, he said.

Those opposed to the sale argued Westwood has already been dedicated for parks use under the open space plan and that selling it would betray earlier promises.

"I think it's remiss on the part of the commission to consider carving away a part of an asset," said Darren Borgias, a member of the 400-member-strong Friends of Westwood Park. "This is not just a neighborhood park and it's not just a wildlife space. ... It's a place that could serve all the city."

Former city councilor Michael Donovan, who owns property near the park, said he feared other parks properties could be vulnerable as well, as only two parks are protected by the city charter.

"You're the only parks commission I've ever known who's considered carving up parks land," he said. "I've never in Ashland since I've lived here seen a process like this. Frankly all of us felt shut out."

Commissioners said their attempts to have an open process were previously ignored, citing a public meeting a week and a half before that no community members attended.

"I don't think the public has listened to the commission at all," said Parks Commission Chair Mike Gardiner. "We're about public input, but I really believe you're not listening to what we would like to be saying. Our goal is to meet the greater needs of the city and to explore the options that are available to us. The big thing is, we're out of dough. Most of the money is gone. There isn't any money available for acquisitions. From our standpoint, it's prudent to explore the options."

Commissioner Melody Noraas said the commission's job is to listen to all Ashland residents, not just vocal neighbors.

"There's a whole population of people that are a little more voiceless," she said.

The population near Clay Street could be considered more voiceless, she said. The area lacks a neighborhood park and has a much larger population than the neighborhood surrounding Westwood, which has 22 acres of nearby park land, including Hald-Strawberry Park.

Neighbor Ken Barnes said he would like to see a referendum to determine if Westwood land should be sold.

"For (commissioners) to consider it is a valid point," he said. "Their job is to consider every option for the city and then present those options, not necessarily find the options and make a decision."

— — City Parks Commissioner Jim Lewis, right, gestures as he speaks about the Westwood property.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .