A developer who has been trying for five years to build on the largest piece of open land downtown put the property up for sale late last month.

A developer who has been trying for five years to build on the largest piece of open land downtown put the property up for sale late last month.

Russ Dale, a former Ashland City Councilman, said his project at 175 Lithia Way was hampered by the city's planning rules and the recession.

"Getting through the planning gauntlet in Ashland is so time-consuming and expensive that it delayed the project to the point that it met economic resistance," he said Friday.

The 1.5-acre property is listed with John L. Scott Real Estate's Ashland office for $3.9 million.

Three people appear to be seriously interested in the property, Dale said.

"We're in negotiations," he said. "We've with spoken with six people and I think three are quite serious."

Dale would prefer to sell portions of the land, which has been divided into six lots, and develop the project in phases with partners, as he had planned. He is in negotiations with four groups who would like to build on specific lots, and with several other parties who are interested in leasing space in the buildings, he said.

"We would prefer to do the project in increments with individual partners and build specifically for individual users, but we would entertain a sale to a single entity," he said.

The individual lots have been for sale for since June 2008, according to Konny Knecht, a broker with John L. Scott Real Estate.

Dale decided to put the entire property up for sale on Jan. 28, to generate renewed interest in it, he said.

"We wanted to open it up to other opportunities and to investors that will allow for a greater breadth of choice in the ultimate use of the property," he said.

Brandon Goldman, senior planner for the city, said the Planning Commission processed Dale's building applications within the time required by law.

Dale began the planning process with the city in April 2005. Later that year, the commission denied his first application, to build two mixed-use buildings on the property, Goldman said.

In early 2007, the commission approved Dale's application to subdivide the property.

In December 2007 he submitted an application to built a 16,000-square-foot, three-story building on one of the lots, at 123 N. First St., according to city records. The commission approved the development the following month.

When the development, called First Place, was approved, Dale had a difficult time securing financing for the project, due to the economy, he said.

Only preliminary construction — installing sidewalks, a parking lot and infrastructure — has been completed on the land since then. The property, bordered by the Ashland Post Office and a city parking lot, has largely sat vacant for the past five years.

Dale's company, Northlight Community Builders LLC, which owns the property, permits the Grower's Market to use the land on Saturday mornings and allows people to park in the lot, which extends from the adjacent city lot, he said.

The company has basic plans for 15 to 20 different types of developments that could be built on the land, Dale said. Most of the plans involve underground parking and mixed-use developments, he said.

"It is the best developmental site that could be assembled in the downtown urban core," he said. "You're never going to get another opportunity like this."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.