By Rivers Brown: Who has ever heard of the SOU 2020 Master Plan?

Who has ever heard of the SOU 2020 Master Plan? Very few readers will be able to answer this affirmatively, for it is mostly a stealth operation, scheduled to (possibly) cruise through the Ashland Planning Commission and on to the City Council for an up or down vote if the designers have their way. The plan is a gigantic overhaul for the center of Ashland that will affect the whole town, with some segments of our community more heavily impacted than others. And all done, somehow, while the university, as everyone knows, has no money.

The "local" planner, who was here barely two years before starting this university/city remake, and the "outsourced" Portland planner, have schemed up an unbelievably ponderous plan that has so many facets to it, one would be hard-pressed to be able to take in all its ramifications, even after a few hours of reading. Although, they have simplified the plan by omitting any factual basis for their assumptions and predications, so this, theoretically, would make it much more palatable for surface-level policy makers to accept and we the people to swallow.

Buried within the plan are some very needed uplifts and remakes for the core campus that everyone knows are long overdue. But the main thrust of the plan is new housing, and plenty of it, all done with PPPs (private public partnerships). These include a massive transfer of all but 96 resident students (Madrone dorm) now living above the boulevard, to below the boulevard. This would mean more than 800 extra students crossing Siskiyou Boulevard multiple times a day, say somewhere between 1,600 (bare minimum) to 6,400 (hopeful maximum) extra crossings per day on our main arterial street that has been plagued by existing difficulties and recent tragedy (death of a student) with this very issue. Yes, of course, the university has the well-being of the (fee-paying) students in mind here and will see that a massive remake of our main street is (again, again) done to assure their safety, even though it was stated in the plan that there is no good way to do this. At least before that exposing revelation was expunged from the latest "final" Master Plan.

The predication of increased enrollment they mention in the second line of their opening "Executive Summary" is pure wishful thinking, as was the previous 2010 plan's estimate that SOU would be up to 5,407 students by 2010 (now at 5,082), especially if our current and probably enduring economic situation is considered. SOU has actually been the only university in the Oregon University System that has negative numbers on its newly admitted undergraduates and has only held its overall numbers up by the opening of the Higher Learning Center partnership in Medford. Flawed assumptions and projections do not a good plan make.

Other housing projects the university has in mind, as with the above-mentioned regular student housing, are not about their current housing shortages: Family housing for the university is, and has been, 100 percent full with a long waiting list (regular housing hovers around 80 percent full). The planners would like to create a Faculty Village, despite studies by the city that there is actually no shortage in affordable housing. This strategy would further impact the sagging real estate market here and the housing would be built and managed by private developers within PPPs that fall outside the normal planning process and outside the city's tax base.

One of the two options for this would place blocks of two- or three-story (with parking beneath) condos along upper Ashland Street, across from the Glenwood Park single family neighborhood, from Beach Creek up to Mountain Avenue, with corresponding rows of condos just below on Henry Street. This very insensitive and intrusive — both in scale and population density­ — university interface with the current '50s housing of this neighborhood has begun to see growing community resistance to having their quality of life changed forever, not for better, by outside planners.

The concept of faculty housing is very controversial and unproven — it creates more insulation at an already-insulated institution; appreciation, demand and profit cannot be guaranteed; it competes with private sector and is not on city tax rolls; and better faculty housing schemes are available. Even if it were a viable option, there is a far superior location for it on the north campus where all the amenities (schools, kid intertie family housing, playing fields, etc.) exist and where the scale and population density fits in with what is already there.

There are more unfortunate ideas in the Master Plan that deal with cutting back most of the vegetation on campus, including established trees, to slap down a big tight-grid, X-shaped plaza in the central core, where a woodland and meadows theme currently exists. The denuding of campus under the "raising visibility" mantra has already started to impact the core area view and soundscape negatively by introducing street cruiser blowback into the core academic zones. Academic and social zones being negatively impacted by an advertising scheme is never good, nor should be tolerated.

This giant plan that virtually no one knows about will affect nearly everyone in Ashland one way or another. The plan is set to float through the Planning Commission and City Council this summer while students are away, locals are on vacation and the sleepy little town of Ashland is busy entertaining itself to wash away the downturn and future collision of the crises. Is there anything wrong with this picture? If you think there may be, go to the SOU 2020 Plan Web site: www.sou.edu/master-plan and check it out. Then you may want to e-mail our working group at 2020Plan@mind.net for updated information and better options. You may also make a comment on the SOU site that will be delivered to the Planning Commission.

If you'd like to have a say about this, the SOU 2020 Master Plan goes before our Planning Commission on Bastille Day, Tuesday, July 14, at 7 p.m. at Council Chambers 1175 E. Main St. If you don't speak up then, please, forever hold your peace on this, for they don't have to listen if you don't register your resistance now.

Rivers Brown moved to Ashland nine years ago, buying a house next to Southern Oregon University. He discovered the SOU Master Plan by reading an article in the Daily Tidings about SOU expansion and followed the link to their Web site, where he discovered that one of the plans had him and his family scheduled "outta here." Thus began his odyssey to explore the plan in depth. Currently, and technically, he is "out from under" the plan as it now stands, and he has been assisting others in trying to get out from under the negative impacts of the plan. His son recently finished his freshman year at SOU.