While the alley has not been a site of violent crime lately, Ashland police Chief Terry Holderness said he believes much of its past troubles can be explained through the "broken window theory."

Ashland police and city crews are working to improve the look and feel of Will Dodge Way, a downtown alley that had been plagued by trash and unruly behavior.

"We had been getting complaints from people and property owners," Ashland police Chief Terry Holderness said. "The alley runs behind several bars that are open late at night, and there was yelling, fighting, disorderly conduct and drunkenness."

Will Dodge Way is tucked in between East Main Street and Lithia Way and runs for two blocks, from Pioneer to Second streets.

One club opens directly onto the alley and a neighboring bar has a back entrance onto Will Dodge Way that often fills up with smokers. Both areas face a building owned by Ashlander Bob Kendrick, who also lives on the alley.

"Will Dodge Way in the past has experienced a lot of damage to a lot of local retailers and a lot of crime, too," Kendrick said.

While the alley has not been a site of violent crime lately, Holderness said he believes much of its past troubles can be explained through the "broken window theory."

A small problem that's not taken care of, such as a broken window, can be the first step in a slippery slope for a neighborhood, he said.

"If a place looks dumpy, people feel empowered to behave poorly," he said.

Off the beaten path and a little darker than the surrounding downtown streets, the alley had become increasingly run-down over the years. The rear walls of buildings that face onto Main Street or Lithia Way invited graffiti, and the uneven, broken pavement was often strewn with trash.

"The amount of destruction to public property really initiated this," Kendrick said.

Before meeting with property owners and residents, Holderness took a walk through the alley himself, documenting more than a broken window. He found potholes, worn one-way arrows on the pavement, overflowing trash containers and blankets and a large cardboard box under a flight of concrete stairs that may have been someone's bed for the night.

Over the past few years, more people have been moving into the neighborhood as older buildings were rebuilt with residential units along the alley. Kendrick bought the building that contains Maizey's and Naturals and the building that houses Pita Pit (previously Harrison's Auto Parts) in 2004. Upon remodeling these buildings, Kendrick added residential units in some of the upper floor areas.

"The fact that we now have people living there that we didn't have in 1990 makes for some new issues," Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught said.

Faught said the city already has made some changes that have improved the area. It re-installed a one-way street sign that had been lost over the years, which should ease some of the congestion and parking issues plaguing stores and residents on Will Dodge Way. Faught also plans to bring a resolution to the City Council to add parking restrictions on the south end of the alley.

"There are times when people are trying to get into their homes and they can't get through because someone is parked in the alley," Faught said.

There are also plans to repair damaged sections of the alley, fix up curbs and gutters and put on a new layer of asphalt. The city electric department is working to increase illumination in the alley. The City Council will consider Faught's recommendations when it meets on March 16.

Kendrick and other concerned residents have met with Holderness and Faught over the past few months to devise solutions for the alley. As a result of those meetings, police have stepped up patrols in the area during the times of night when crowds tend to build.

"Things have already relaxed there since the police got a lot more active and started moving people along," Kendrick said.

But he added that the conflict between late-night revelers and nearby residents is still an issue.

"The city can only go so far, then it becomes an issue that puts the responsibility on the landlords," Kendrick said. "All the tenants want to enjoy their businesses."

Reach reporter and editor Myles Murphy at 482-3456 ext. 222 or mmurphy@dailytidings.com.