Changes to a plan to develop the defunct Croman Mill site in Ashland got generally good reviews from the new Croman Advisory Committee.

Changes to a plan to develop the defunct Croman Mill site received generally good reviews from the new Croman Advisory Committee.

On June 16, the City Council appointed business, Southern Oregon University, neighborhood and city commission representatives to the committee.

The committee, which met for the first time on Wednesday evening, is charged with providing comments on the city's Croman Mill Site Redevelopment Plan and keeping various groups in the loop about the plan's progress.

The mill site east of Tolman Creek Road has gone largely unused since the mill closed in the 1990s, making it the largest undeveloped block of land left in town. It has about 60 net buildable acres — the amount of land left for businesses after space for roads and other uses is taken out.

After a year-long public input process and the creation of a plan by an outside consulting firm, the city's Community Development Department staff and Planning Commission looked at the plan.

An early version called for light industrial uses on the west side of the property, closest to an existing neighborhood of homes. Office uses would have been to the east, next to railroad tracks.

However, the revised plan now calls for light industry to be sited in the south part of the land so that some of the industrial businesses will border the railroad tracks. The change also keeps industry farther from the homes located to the northwest.

Meanwhile, office uses would be in the northern half and those types of businesses would still have some frontage along the railroad tracks.

The plan envisions a wider open space zone along Hamilton Creek and a new strip of land zoned for mixed business and residential use. Those two changes create more of a buffer zone for the existing homes that border the property's northwest side.

Mary Kay Michelsen, who was appointed to the Croman Advisory Committee to represent neighbors, said she liked the changes.

"I think it's more rational and functional," she said.

Several members of the advisory group said it made more sense to give the industrial land frontage on the railroad tracks, rather than placing it far from the tracks near a neighborhood as first envisioned.

"The revised plan is quite an improvement," said Ashland Historic Commission representative Keith Swink.

Issues still debated

City Councilor Eric Navickas, representing the council on the committee, said he would like to see the mixed use zone near Hamilton Creek changed to open space.

Ashland Airport Commission member Alan DeBoer, a business owner and former Ashland mayor, said he didn't like plans for a parking garage. He said parking garages are tall, expensive and not in keeping with Ashland's character.

Navickas defended the parking garage, noting it would reduce the amount of land devoted to parked cars. He said the garage possibly could be paid for through an urban renewal district.

When a city creates an urban renewal district, property taxes continue to go to the city government at a flat amount based on when the district was created. But as the district develops, property taxes on the new development are put in an urban renewal fund to pay for improvements meant to spur more development.

The new property tax revenue cannot fund services such as police and fire departments, even though police officers and firefighters have to protect the new development.

DeBoer said adopting an urban renewal district for the Croman site would divert money needed to pay for government services.

DeBoer and Navickas also differed over whether the plan should be changed to allow for a large industrial business, with DeBoer saying the site would be too broken up with new roads to allow for a business that might want a big block of land.

However, Navickas said any large industrial business would go to Medford or White City, where land is far cheaper than in Ashland.

"We need to support small businesses," he said.

Housing needs

The issue of whether the Croman Mill Site Redevelopment Plan should allow for more housing surfaced again Wednesday night.

Once built out with businesses, the site could provide up to 3,000 jobs, Community Development Director Bill Molnar said.

"Where will those people live?" asked Matt Warshawsky, a representative of the Ashland Transportation Commission.

Molnar said the city still has an adequate supply of land for homes, especially along East Main Street and if existing buildings are redeveloped. The city does need to focus on efficient, compact housing, he noted.

Molnar said both for local and state reasons, the priority for the Croman site has to be businesses, although residences could be built above some of those businesses.

The state requires cities to have enough land for various uses to meet projections for 20 years worth of growth.

Molnar said Ashland's other large block of undeveloped land, located near A Street along the railroad tracks, has contamination issues because of years of railroad use.

DeBoer said the Croman site needs to provide housing for workers, with apartments offering the most affordable option.

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