Building up, not out might be jarring at first to longtime Ashland residents accustomed to the city's single-story profile at the south end of town, but it's the only way to address housing needs while maintaining the long-standing resistance to expanding city boundaries.

The City Council's unanimous vote last week to proceed with amending the city's planning ordinance is a big step toward owning that commitment to restrain sprawl while allowing the vertical development that must follow if Ashland is ever to offer housing options beyond large, single-family homes affordable only to the well-to-do.

The proposed amendment would allow three- to four-story apartment buildings in what is known as the "transit triangle" — the residential part of the city south of Ashland Street between Tolman Creek Road and Siskiyou Boulevard. The dwelling units of 650-700 square feet would add more affordable options to an area now dominated by large single-family houses because of zoning that restricts the number of units allowed per acre.

Changing those limits as well as allowing multiple stories will help encourage developers to build affordable apartments rather than condominiums, hotels and motels.

The Legislature has paved the way by allowing tax breaks for high-density mixed-use developments, among other incentives. Now it's up to the city to follow through.

It won't come a moment too soon for Ashland residents struggling to afford to live in a town where the average rent is $1,000 a month but 46 percent of households should be paying less than $875.