Cottage housing developments in Ashland took a step closer to become reality last week.

The city of Ashland City Council at its Nov. 7 meeting passed the first reading of an ordinance that would allow smaller, more affordable housing units on residential lots. Multiple residents, who spoke at the meeting applauded the effort, but also reminded the council the fight for affordable housing in Ashland is far from finished.

“We do have high hopes that this ordinance will create housing needed in this community,” Councilor Rich Rosenthal said at the meeting. “I think there’s probably more work to be done, but I have my fingers crossed with high hopes.”

The proposed ordinance, passed unanimously by the Planning Commission on Sept. 26 after months of researching, will allow developments of multiple units, the largest of which may be up to 1,000 square feet, on lots in the city. The units can be grouped together on one lot or built singly adjacent to existing houses, the ordinance reads. It aims to “create different housing in Ashland,” while the city copes with the housing crisis, city Senior Planner Brandon Goldman said at the meeting.

The ordinance would allow cottage housing development in lots all over Ashland, but concentrated on the west end of Ashland in the Ashland Mine Road area, between Oak Street and North Mountain Avenue north of Clinton Street, in the Normal Neighborhood, and east of Interstate 5 south of East Main Street and north of Highway 66.

A development would have between three and 12 housing units, with at least six feet between homes. Twenty percent of the lot would be required to be common open space. Cottages have to be no larger than 1,000 square feet, and 75 percent of the units in a development have be smaller than 800 square feet. Cottages have to be designed to not cast shadows upon the roof of another cottage to preserve solar access. Each unit must have at least one parking spot and a private outdoor area. The rules would allow density of 6.6 units per acre.

“This is just a first step,” Councilor Stefani Seffinger said. “I very much hope the idea of lifelong housing and ADA accessibility is looked at with this. Heterogeneous housing is found to be very hopeful to a community in terms of young residents to be here for a lot of reasons.”

Ashland has seen the number of owner-occupied homes drop to half compared to occupied homes in the city. While the median price of a house in Ashland climbed from $14,000 in 1970 to $408,400 in 2010, median income hasn’t been able to catch up, registering only an increase from $8,300 to $40,800.

The city’s planning department projects a market rate at $240,000 per cottage housing unit.

“This is a great idea, and I totally support it,” said Ron Roth, an Ashland resident. “Allowing high density on R-1-5 and R-1-7.5 could result in hundreds of smaller housing units … built here.

“This is what the community needs right now,” he added. “Let’s go for it, let’s try for it — but it’s also important to revisit it in a year.”

Karen Logan, founder of Ashland Tiny House project, said the ordinance will only fix the problem temporarily.

“The cottage houses, in general, will definitely solve the problem of infills, and it will create housing at a certain price point that makes things affordable,” she said at the meeting. “But the actual reality of the ordinance only benefits landowners and developers. ... It’s a limited term of affordability.”

Logan said she’s also concerned out-of-state investors will buy out lands in Ashland without much limitation. “I don’t know what the answers are,” she said.

Jessie Sharpe, state organizer for Community Alliance of Tenants, also urged the City Council to start addressing problems for renters, referring to the skyrocketing rates of rental in recent years in Ashland.

“While this is a wonderful step in the right direction,” Sharpe said. “It’s important for the city council as a motion moving forward to look for affordable housing and how to make it truly affordable for both renters and the people (who’re) struggling to live and work here.”

Councilor Dennis Slattery acknowledged the ordinance is the first of many steps in the fight against the housing crisis in Ashland.

“It’s another arrow in the quiver,” he said at the meeting. “I think it’s a good idea, but it won’t help affordable housing much — maybe for affordable ownership and perhaps to provide some more stocks for the long term rentals. There’s a lot more for us to look into the issue of ‘affordable housing’ — this is a step into the right direction and a well thought-out plan.”

— Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com.