More than one participant in a workshop on the housing element of Ashland's comprehensive plan last Wednesday summed up the problem succinctly.

"We've said we want a whole community, but we haven't done anything to make it happen," developer Mark DiRienzo said.

"It used to be a nice town to live in, now it's a great place to be a tourist," said Ashland resident Phil Miller.

Planning Commissioner Haywood Norton said he had talked to a Realtor who had never sold a house to an Ashland High School graduate.

And Ashland resident Mark Haneberg proposed that the city allow housing on the former Imperatrice Ranch property it owns north of town and east of Interstate 5.

"If we want to be a whole community, we need all kinds of housing," he said. "If we want to be an exclusive retirement community, then we're on the way. We need to say what we want."

Historically, Ashland has wanted to restrict development within the existing city limits. While that's great for promoting density, seen as a good thing by advocates of "smart growth" and efficient land use, it's terrible for affordability because it has the effect, intended or not, of driving up prices because buildable land is scarce.

Participants in Wednesday's meeting had several suggestions: allowing smaller lots, approving clusters of small homes, greater flexibility in zoning. But ultimately, Ashland needs to decide whether its refusal to expand still makes sense in a city that prices out those who work here.