The Ashland Planning Commission has unanimously approved a new townhouse development of 29 units which promise to be affordable, workforce housing on the southwest corner of East Main Street and South Mountain Avenue.

The commission spent several hours asking questions and looking at plans on Tuesday night before approving the project presented by longtime Ashland developer Mark Knox. He asked the commission to consider the need for new houses below the median cost of $417,000. “This is workforce housing," he said. "These are our most affordable units and they are small and sustainable.”

The development at 1068 East Main will sit on a nearly two-acre lot behind a 1909 farm house. Knox decided to leave the home to preserve the charm of it as an iconic street view. In order to do it, they will actually roll the entire house onto a new foundation closer to the sidewalk but still back far enough to preserve its appearance as a old home on a large lawn. The house will be sold separately from the townhouses as a single family home.

The development will have three bedroom units and one bedroom town homes. There will also be two apartments in the mix.

Commissioners had initial questions about the back units which will be nearest to the Ashland High School football field, with some suggesting the 6-foot space between that property and the units would not be enough. Knox explained that, given it would be the backside of the units and the bottom would be garages, he did not think greater space was needed.

“If we have to do this (expand the setback), it will kill the project,” he said, saying they would have to reposition the entire development to make that work. “We’re building livable housing,” he said, adding that making the change would force them to shrink other parts of the development or remove the back row of houses which are the one bedroom, less expensive units, all of which would increase the prices on the units.

The commission agreed with his proposed setback, noting that, considering the school also has roughly 12 feet of space on its side, the development met the requirement.

Some members of the public expressed concerns about saving trees. “I really appreciate his efforts to preserve trees and the history of the area,” said resident Dara Crockett. “I also support efforts to preserve trees along Mountain Avenue.

The project calls for creating an entrance from Mountain Avenue. There are two large trees there and Knox said he has decided that they could preserve the largest and healthiest tree there by creating a cut out for it in the sidewalk. The Tree Commission approved the removal of 12 of the 28 trees on the lot, but Knox said they’ve been able to get that number down to 10.

“Also, we’re not just cutting down trees," Knox added. "We’re also planting 32 smaller trees on the property.”

Now that the development has been approved by the Planning Commission they can begin work. “The first thing will be to roll the house on to the new foundation,” says Knox. After that, they will begin preparing the property for the rest of the development.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.