The Ashland City Council hopes to attract developers to build affordable housing units in the southeast edge of the city with a newly developed infill strategy.
“It is a relatively new approach in planning to look at potential policy changes, ... and what’s coming out of the project could open the door to developments of residential units along the bus route,” said Maria Harris, the city’s planning manager. “These will be important changes.”
The strategy proposes zoning and land use standard changes for the southeast area bounded by Ashland Street, Tolman Creek Road and Siskiyou Boulevard. The area is served by Rogue Valley Transit District Route 10, which does a loop around the area, an established shopping and services hub.
The area, identified as the "transit triangle" by the city, currently is zoned with restrictions on units per acre, resulting in many larger single-family houses in the area and leaving it infeasible for commercial and residential rental unit developments.
”What signal your current ordinances is sending is to build a few big units,” consultant John Fregonese said. “That’s not economically sound. That’s not how you get affordable units.”
The proposed changes will allow more, smaller units (650 to 700 square feet) in vertical buildings of three to four stories. The units will be available for rental, while development of condominiums, hotels or motels will be restricted.
“This area always has a lot of potential. … It probably has some of the most potential to contribute to housing supply in Ashland,” Fregonese said, adding that RVTD is going to increase its services circulating the area, using grants from the $5.3 billion transportation packet passed in the 2017 legislation.
Housing reports conducted by the city has shown a lack of affordable housing in Ashland, with fewer people living in bigger homes. That goes against the large and growing demand for smaller units for one- to two-person households, Fregonese said.
Rents are also pricing people out of the city at an average of $1,000 a month. According to the city's median income data, 46 percent of Ashland households should pay less than $875 per month to be considered living affordably, Fregonese said.
By allowing higher density in the area and adding potential financial incentives, the city could attract developments to the transit triangle to create more housing units at the affordable mark, he said.
“It will not only be economical for the developers but also for the renters,” Fregonese said.
Fregonese also highlighted the Vertical Housing Development Zone incentive, which passed the state legislature in 2016. The incentive, separated from the strategy, would encourage higher-density mixed-use developments by foregoing as much as 80 percent of property tax for 10 years, Fregonese said.
Multiple cities in Oregon, including Grants Pass, Milwaukee, Oregon City and Roseburg, have adopted similar incentives.
Other incentives the council could adopt include a 1 percent construction excise tax to fund affordable housing, an option for developers to pay a fee in-lieu of the affordable units, and requirement to make 20 percent of total units to be affordable in projects with 20 units or more.
Within the infill strategy, Fregonese also proposed to conduct street improvements to make the area more pedestrian-friendly, eliminate the maximum density and lower the requirement for parking and landscaping.
The draft amendment, presented to the Planning Commission in 2016, has been adjusted after city staff met with key developers in the area and collected feedback from public input, Harris said. An online questionnaire is also available on the city webpage (https://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=17235).
Resident Zach Brombacker, who has lived on Tolman Creek since the ‘60s, spoke at the meeting about his concerns how the zoning changes might affect the projects on his property.
“There’s always something else changes … and now we are getting close to be able to do something, so I hope this thing won’t hold us back,” he said. “And also the lack of parking, that’s a big issue I have heard.”
Councilors agreed the amendment would be the good first step to maximize the use of land in the city.
“We made the decision a long time ago when we tied in our urban growth boundary,” Councilor Greg Lemhouse said in support of the infill strategy. “We’ve committed ourselves to an infill strategy, finding ways to go more vertically than stomping out.”
“We should look for places that would allow four-story buildings, as we only have so much land in the city,” Councilor Michael Morris said.
The council unanimously approved proceeding with drafting an amendment to the city's planning ordinance and agreed to direct staff to come back with a full report about financial incentives.
— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.