City Council members are concerned about parking problems that could come with a proposed restaurant by Lithia Park, and are also worried about future uses of the building should the restaurant fail.

City Council members are concerned about parking problems that could come with a proposed restaurant by Lithia Park, and are also worried about future uses of the building should the restaurant fail.

Councilors and Mayor John Stromberg began debating the merits of the proposal on Tuesday and will take up the issue again during an April 5 meeting.

"There are things I love about the project, but it's really big," Stromberg said. "It's really big physically and economically."

He said the lodge-style restaurant would need to serve hundreds of meals a day to be successful. It would compete with other downtown restaurants and could worsen parking problems.

Stromberg noted that parking spaces next to Lithia Park often are filled up during the summer, with cars overflowing into neighborhoods.

He said scaling down the restaurant also could scale down some of those problems.

Jon and Esther Phelps are proposing to tear down an aging snack shop at 85 Winburn Way and replace it with a 10,632-square-foot restaurant across the street from Ashland's signature park. At their cost, they would also construct a heated building to serve the seasonal Ashland Rotary Centennial Ice Rink operated by the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department.

The snack shop currently sits on land zoned for residential use. The Phelpses want the land to be rezoned for commercial use, with downtown rules that wouldn't require them to provide additional parking for the 189-seat restaurant.

They have said they would be willing to pay into a fund for downtown parking improvements if the city created a parking district affecting businesses there.

From 1989 to 2000, the city had such a district, with businesses paying a dollar per month for every parking space they required. The city used the money to buy several parking lots downtown, city staff said.

Questioning the fairness of a new parking district, Councilor Dennis Slattery said that businesses in existing buildings downtown already have paid for their parking.

Councilors were generally supportive of a restaurant coming to the location, and they said the building does have to have some flexibility regarding allowed future uses. But several said some uses are not appropriate.

"The future use is at least as important as the use that's being proposed," Councilor Russ Silbiger said.

Councilors did not want allowed uses to include a hotel, a mini-mart, a copying and printing center or a bowling alley.

They generally supported allowing non-chain restaurants and shops, offices, a theater, a city building, ice rink facilities, a seasonal farmers' market, or acceptable commercial uses downstairs with upstairs housing.

The restaurant would have a basement and three above-ground levels, including a top level observation deck with a glass roof.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.