The city of Ashland is exploring a new program that would ensure that Lithia Park is never developed, while also providing incentives for developers to build affordable housing or green, sustainable homes.

The city of Ashland is exploring a new program that would ensure that Lithia Park is never developed, while also providing incentives for developers to build affordable housing or green, sustainable homes.

Oregon law allows cities to create Transferable Development Credits Programs.

In Ashland, Lithia Park is actually zoned for residential use and could have up to 216 homes, according to City Attorney Richard Appicello.

The city has no intention of selling Lithia Park.

But to make sure that could never happen, the city could transfer the development rights off the park into a Transferable Development Credits Bank. Lithia Park would then be preserved as a park forever, Appicello said.

The city could use some of the development rights in the bank to reward a developer who built affordable housing or environmentally friendly, sustainable homes. The developer would be able to increase the density of homes in a development and have more homes to sell using some of the rights transfered off Lithia Park.

The banking system could be used for parks throughout the city, or other types of open space the city wants to protect permanently.

"The benefit is that citizens will know those parks will always be parks," Appicello said.

On Tuesday night, an Ashland City Council majority voted to send the concept to the Planning Commission for further review. The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the council about whether to adopt the development credits banking program.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said a downside to the program could be that some residents would be opposed to dense developments in their neighborhoods.

"You may get concern from neighborhoods that they may get increased density for goals they might not share," Bennett said.

The banking program might also raise concerns that developers may try to "game the system" in order to build more densely, she said.

Appicello said the city would have to carefully designate receptor zones where the increased density could go. To lessen controversy, those receptor zones could be outside the city limits but inside the urban growth boundary, he said.

The density credits could perhaps be used in commercial zones to allow homes to be built above businesses, Appicello said.

As for whether the city should sell the development credits rather than give them away in exchange for promises of affordable housing or sustainable homes, Appello said that is something the Planning Commission and City Council would have to explore.

"Whether or not we get cash or a promise of green development, that is still something in exchange for that development right," he said.

The city already has a program to allow developers to have increased density if they build affordable housing, Appicello said.

"There are other tools being used right now. This doesn't take away from those. This is just an added tool," he said.

The city currently does not have an added density program to reward developers who build green, sustainable homes, Appicello said.

Although a City Council majority did vote to send the concept to the Planning Commission, several said they wanted to know more about how the program would work.

Councilor David Chapman said he hopes the Planning Commission will prepare a list of pluses and minuses about the idea.

Councilor Eric Navickas, the only councilor to vote against further exploring the idea, said the city would be taking development rights off of parks that aren't going to be developed anyway.

He said if the city wants to allow more dense construction in some parts of town, it should look at the issue in a comprehensive way.

"If we want to upzone, I'd want to do it systematically, not put land use rules up for grabs," Navickas said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.