Local planners are hopeful that a plan to redevelop the defunct Croman Mill site in Ashland will be ready to implement when the economy recovers and the construction climate improves.

Planners are hopeful that a plan to redevelop the defunct Croman Mill site will be ready to implement when the economy recovers and the construction climate improves.

The site east of Tolman Creek Road is Ashland's biggest block of undeveloped land. It could house businesses that together could employ up to 3,000 workers.

City Planning Director Bill Molnar said residential construction is picking up again, but commercial construction is still sluggish.

Research he's seen suggests that commercial construction will remain slow into 2010, but will begin to increase later in that year.

With the help of outside consultants, the city has developed a Croman Mill Site Redevelopment Plan that shows where streets, office space and light industry would be sited. Creating the plan took a year and included gathering input from the public.

In February, the City Council directed planning staff and the Ashland Planning Commission to begin working on amendments to the city's land use rules and Comprehensive Plan. Those changes are needed to begin implementing the plan.

Planning staff and commissioners are in the midst of that work.

The slowdown in construction has given them more time to focus on long-term planning rather than being flooded with development applications.

Molnar said there is actually nothing to stop development of the Croman land right now. An applicant would go through the regular planning process.

However, Mistletoe Road, which reaches into the site, was built to handle lumber mill traffic and doesn't meet city street standards. City officials would have to talk to a developer about how much the developer would have to improve the road, Molnar said.

"The biggest impediment is the level of infrastructure," he said.

A state grant could be available to help the city build a main street through the site.

Molnar said there could be an opportunity to have that street in place in 2010.

Other smaller streets would likely be the responsibility of developers, he said.

The owners of the Croman land previously tried to win approval for a mixed use development there, but the Planning Commission denied the application in 2003. The owners had requested that much of the land be used for housing, but city officials have long wanted the Croman site to be used mainly for businesses.

Croman Corporation President Bud Kaufman said the city's planning effort for the land has been long and tedious, but he's hopeful that progress is being made now.

When asked if he thought his company missed an opportunity during the building boom of the early and mid-2000s, Kaufman said, "We're certainly not in as good a position."

Still, having a master plan for the area is better than building in a piecemeal fashion for Croman Corporation, businesses that want to move there and the community of Ashland, said Mike Montero of Montero & Associates, LLC.

Croman Corporation is a client of Montero's urban development consulting firm.

Croman Corporation and Plexis Healthcare Systems — an Ashland company that has long had an interest in a portion of the Croman site — both prefer to have some certainty about what can be built there, Montero said.

"It's like if your family is going to invest in your house. You would be reluctant to do that if there was uncertainty about what's going to be allowed to be built next to you," he said. "That's how Plexis feels about the investment of their capital. They want some assurances about what the area will look like."

In addition to showing where office space and light industrial uses would be located, the Croman Mill Site Redevelopment Plan calls for amenities like a park, bike lanes and an open space buffer along Hamilton Creek on the edge of the property.

Some housing could be allowed above businesses.

Montero said he doesn't have a prediction for when the commercial construction industry will rebound.

Like Molnar, the city's planning director, Montero said he is hopeful there will be grant opportunities for improving the site's infrastructure.

Montero said the city has had the difficult task of using the information it has available now to craft a master plan for the long-term use of the Croman site.

"The city is trying to address identified current needs and those they believe may come in the future. That's a laudable goal," he said. "It's much to the benefit of Ashland to ensure there's sufficient flexibility to embrace market opportunities for users that are able to site in Ashland."

The full build-out of the Croman site will likely take 10 to 20 years, according to Ashland Senior Planner Maria Harris.

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

Montero said the city has to try and meet the needs of residents as well as businesses.

City planning staff and the Planning Commission recently changed the location of some office and industrial spaces in the plan to shift industrial uses farther away from an existing neighborhood. A main boulevard planned through the Croman site is meant to help keep new traffic off of nearby Tolman Creek Road.

"Notwithstanding the frustration probably everyone in my industry feels about the pace to get things approved, there's always a tension between private property owners trying to meet market needs and communities that want to make sure land is developed to meet their needs," Montero said.

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