A mix of coffee shops and high end retail, a boutique hotel and condominiums likely to be priced at roughly $540,000 based on nearby property values, may be popping up on Water Street and Van Ness, one of a dwindling number of areas near downtown not yet gentrified.
The plan, presented to the city of Ashland Planning Commission on Tuesday night, calls for 10 condominiums between 1,000 and 1,600 square feet with one and two bedrooms and 26 hotel rooms in a 42,000-square-foot structure standing three stories high just on the other side of the tunnel leading to the Ashland Recycling Center. Commercial space would be leased on the first floor of the "Magnolia Building" on the west corner of the intersection of Water Street and Van Ness Avenue, with hotel lodgings on the second floor and condos on the top floor.
Real Estate Broker Eric Bonetti spoke in favor of the development. “I’m excited about seeing it come into fruition and see the neighborhood uplifted," he said, "and we’ll see fewer transients.” Bonetti speculated that an upscale development would discourage some members of the homeless community from parking older RVs on the street and from “hanging out” in the area.
Others, however, like nearby property owner Jim North, said the development would not create enough parking spaces and would become a place for so-called transients. “I’m concerned about parking. At the Water Street Inn (roughly one block from the planned development) you see most of the time the parking lot full and the streets full,” he said, while also expressing concern that the developments planned chairs and benches in front would be inviting for the wrong people. “We went to great expense to keep property private. It’s a concern of mine that it’ll turn into a hangout, that it becomes a magnet for problems.”
City planner Derek Seversen presented concerns raised by staff that the development is calling for 44 parking spaces when, by practice, according to Seversen, it should be 63. “They claim they’ll use on-street parking and that parking in the area is low. They’ll also say guests will most likely take a cab from the airport and walk.” But Seversen told the commission the developers view of the area does not match theirs. “Staff says parking demand is far from low. There is an 85 to 100 percent range in parking spaces used, including on-street parking.”
He additionally told the commission the plan did not properly integrate public space and private areas because the public plaza areas around the building tended to be toward the back of the building and less accessible from the public sidewalk.
Amy Gunter, a land use consultant for the developer, told the commission the parking would be adequate, according to a study she commissioned. She suggested the city’s way of looking at the need for 20 more parking spaces does not take into consideration normal business realities. “The parking requirement implies that every resident is home with a car and every retailer is full," she said. "That’s not how business works.”
She also lauded features of the roughly $5 million project, including a roof-top garden, living walls with plantings, awnings and relief features so the building looks similar to downtown businesses, with grounds that include open seating and benches to accommodate visitors throughout a variety of seasons. Gunter said the reason the majority of public seating space is toward the back rather than off the sidewalk was to promote better views and allow for more guests.
Several commissioners expressed concern that the awnings and relief, as well as public space toward the back, would encourage “vagrants” to use the area. “I’m worried about sleeping bags back there and vagrants," Commissioner Troy Brown said while contrasting the proposed development to the building on Lithia Way which houses Pony Espresso. “It doesn’t have alcoves and doesn’t invite vagrants.”
Commissioner Lynne Thompson agreed, saying the city’s requirements to provide plaza space might backfire in terms of encouraging the homeless to seek refuge. “I’m concerned the plaza requirements might encourage vagrants to hang out there,” she said.
Thompson also urged looking at the parking requirements, suggesting they may be too rigorous for the development. “This is a property with severe constraints," she said. "I’ve always understood on-street parking credits as discretionary, but we need to go back and look.”
She was countered by Planning Commissioner Debbie Miller, who said the plan cuts into the suggested parking spaces too drastically. “I feel strongly there is not enough parking," she said. "A 30 percent reduction in parking is too much.”
Commissioners began deliberations and comments but did not make any decisions. The next scheduled meeting for discussion is at 7 p.m. May 9, when a decision is expected. It will take place in the City Council Chambers at 1175 East Main St.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.