City Council approves ‘green’ subdivision

The Ashland City Council approved a subdivision that the Oregon Department of Energy has identified as a state-wide model for environmentally friendly housing.

Ashland residents Greg and Valri Williams and their team of consultants have spent three years designing a subdivision filled with green features. They won approval for the 68-unit project Tuesday night in a 5-1 council vote.

“We’re pleased. We’re very happy that it was a near-unanimous vote,” Greg Williams said. “They’re going to be proud of this project.”

The subdivision of regularly sized homes, small cottages and affordable townhouses will be constructed near the Dog Park. The homes and cottages will be built to Earth Advantage standards and will include solar electric panels, solar water heaters, cisterns to catch rainwater off roofs for use in flushing toilets and irrigation, heavy insulation and bioswales and wetlands to treat stormwater run-off.

Rogue Valley Community Development Corporation, which builds affordable housing in the valley, will construct the 15 affordable townhouses. The organization will seek a grant to build those to high environmental standards as well.

In approving the project, the City Council majority required that the townhouses be oriented to take advantage of solar power, have good insulation and include other features during their construction so that upgrades like solar panels can be added if RVCDC wins the grant. Building to green standards will help ensure that utility bills are reduced for the low-income residents who will help construct the homes and then live there.

The affordable townhouses will cost about $150,000, while the cottages and larger homes will start at about $250,000, Greg Williams said.

Even though the cottages and larger homes will be packed with green features, Valri Williams said the couple’s goal is for the houses to sell for the same cost as conventionally built homes.

“Development is a risky industry. To avoid risk, builders avoid trying new things. We’re hoping we can be the guinea pigs and show them it works,” she said.

With growing interest from home buyers in environmentally sustainable and low-energy houses, she said she hopes developers “will see that the sales value is there and the risk is not.”

During a public hearing before the City Council’s decision, real estate agent and certified broker of eco-friendly homes Don McCoy said he has toured Oregon to view sustainable developments. He said interest is growing in green homes and he agreed with the Williams’ assessment that such homes don’t have to cost more than conventional houses.

“More and more people are asking, ‘What does this house cost me to run?’ These houses will hold and gain value,” McCoy said.

The project requires that the city of Ashland swap a 1.54 acre finger of land that runs through the couple’s property for 2.78 acres that the Williams own along Ashland Creek. The city’s land is appraised at $134,000, while the couple’s land is appraised at $284,000.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission recommended approval of the land swap. At the developers’ cost, the Bear Creek Greenway will be extended along the creek-side property, which has been on a parks department land acquisition wish list since 2002.

The Dog Park will remain undisturbed by the subdivision, although the access road to the popular park off Nevada Street will be improved by the developers.

Councilor Eric Navickas was the one council member who did not vote to approve the subdivision, which is on land that had to be annexed into the city limits.

Navickas said annexation criteria dictate that the land should only be annexed if the city has a less than five year supply of residential land, but the city has a surplus of residentially zoned land. He said remaining pockets of land within the city should be developed before the City Council annexes more land.

Navickas warned that developers on the fringes of town will try to tempt the city into annexing land by proposing green subdivisions &

leading to sprawl.

Councilor Cate Hartzell said she shared his concerns about the annexation issue, but considered the project as a whole when deciding to approve it.

Several residents said they consider the Williams’ land to already be a part of the community since it is near Helman Elementary School, the Dog Park and neighborhoods, and is within easy biking distance of downtown Ashland.

Navickas also objected to plans to build homes along the creekside property and Bear Creek Greenway extension, rather than putting a road next to that area as called for under city rules.

If the land was not annexed, Jackson County standards would allow only five homes there. Greg Williams said a dense development limits sprawl and is a better use of land and natural resources.

In other business Tuesday night, the City Council heard numerous complaints from neighbors about Oregon Department of Transportation Rail Division efforts to push the city into closing the Glenn Street railroad crossing.

Neighbors said that route provides quick access to Ashland Community Hospital and is the most efficient way to reach North Main Street and travel out to Talent and Medford. They said closing the crossing would lead to more congestion on surrounding streets and near Helman Elementary School.

The City Council ran out of time to hear from all the concerned residents and continued the issue to its next regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4.

The council also named a Silver Maple at 122 Helman St. as the 2007 Tree of the Year and ran out of time to consider adopting the Public Arts Master Plan and to consider rules that would limit the speech of the City Council, mayor and city staff and place restrictions on the media’s rights to seek information about closed-door sessions. Other agenda items will also be heard at future meetings.

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