The developer of a 189-seat restaurant across from Lithia Park would be required to create an employee bike program complete with on-site showers instead of providing more parking spaces, under the Ashland Planning Commission's approval of the project.

The developer of a 189-seat restaurant across from Lithia Park would be required to create an employee bike program complete with on-site showers instead of providing more parking spaces, under the Ashland Planning Commission's approval of the project.

The commission considers the development a test case in a push to encourage car-free transportation, said Chairwoman Pam Marsh. "If we're depending on the personal automobile and parking to solve the way we move people around, we're never going to get out of this mire," she said. "We have to begin to try something else. So it's a test case."

In addition to the commission's vote to require the developer to install showers for those who bike to work, it also must provide workers with bus passes and to pay an employee to coordinate carpooling.

A handful of neighboring business owners and homeowners are skeptical that the commission's alternative transportation program will work. They asked the commission to require the restaurant to pay the city to create more parking in the downtown area, because they believe the development will significantly increase traffic, making parking more difficult to find and hurting tourism.

Downtown property owner Lloyd Haines wrote a letter to the commission noting that "the parking situation is problematic, especially during the high season. "… By adding another 120-seat restaurant and building to the downtown without a parking requirement, will only exacerbated (sic) the problem."

Two other downtown business owners spoke at the commission's Dec. 14 meeting and asked the commissioners to address the parking problem, said Derek Severson, an associate planner for the city.

But the commission voted, 5-1, not to require Urban Development Services LLC, which is developing the restaurant on behalf of Jonathan and Esther Phelps, to pay extra money to increase parking spaces downtown.

Commissioner Debbie Miller voted against the project because she felt it was too large for the downtown area, according to the city record.

The developers plan to demolish a small building at 85 Winburn Way and replace it with a two-story restaurant with a third-level observation deck.

By approving the project, the commission changed the zoning of the parcel from residential to commercial, which takes away any requirement to provide parking in the downtown area. However, city planners asked the commission whether it wanted to consider requiring the developer to address parking problems the project might create.

One option would have been to charge the developer — and future ones with projects in the downtown area — a fee based on the expected parking impact. Other cities require developers to provide one parking space for every four restaurant seats — and charge between $10,000 and $55,000 per parking space, Severson said.

City planners calculated that it cost the city $16,350 per parking space to build the parking garage on Hargadine Street, he said.

"We asked the commission if they wanted to require the developer to pay that full amount, which is pretty substantial, or did they want to require a lesser fee, or no fee," he said.

The commission didn't want to create a new city policy of charging developers for parking impacts in the downtown area, because it feels the parking issue should be dealt with more comprehensively, Marsh said.

"I think it was a combination of not being willing to create a whole precedent on this project, and, secondly, feeling like parking is not the way of the future," she said.

The commission believes the City Council, which will hold a public hearing on the development on Tuesday, Feb. 15, should study ways to improve transportation in the downtown area.

"This needs to be looked at comprehensively, not on a project-by-project basis," Marsh said. "I think it really should be a council decision."

Meanwhile, the commission believes its decisions to promote car-free transportation in individual projects will have an impact on Ashland's parking problem.

"I think this will affect parking to some degree, certainly," Marsh said. "We're still a little bit ahead of the curve, in that a lot of the infrastructure we need to leave our automobiles behind isn't quite in place, but if we don't start moving in that direction, then we're never going to get there."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.