ASHLAND — The City Council has approved concept designs for making three intersections in town more pedestrian-friendly.

ASHLAND — The City Council has approved concept designs for making three intersections in town more pedestrian-friendly.

In most cases, the concepts are voluntary and don't force property owners at the intersections or developers to build in a certain way, city staff said.

In fact, the concepts offer more flexibility by allowing buildings to sit closer to the sidewalk and to be built at a greater density to accommodate housing, shops and other uses, city staff said.

Having buildings close to the street would create a pleasant experience for pedestrians, similar to Ashland's downtown. Dense development makes mass transit more viable, planners believe.

Developers also could provide public plazas to meet some landscaping requirements, city staff said.

Council members approved the concept designs last week.

The affected intersections are at Tolman Creek Road and Ashland Street, Walker Avenue and Ashland Street, and North Mountain Avenue and East Main Street.

A council majority scaled back plans to make the Tolman Creek Road and Ashland Street intersection more pedestrian friendly.

During a series of Pedestrian Places workshops about the intersections, many residents said that intersection was too close to Exit 14 and large grocery stores to ever be truly pedestrian friendly. Some said that intersection needs to keep accommodating vehicles.

Speaking Tuesday night on behalf of a business near the Tolman Creek intersection, land use attorney Chris Hearn said semitrailers that bring products to and from local businesses need to have good access at the intersection.

"Ashland has one gateway to that I-5 interchange," he said, adding that the town needs to keep at least one area oriented toward vehicles and the interchange instead of pedestrians.

The designs for that intersection feature buildings constructed close to streets, with parking lots tucked out of sight behind the buildings. The buildings would house apartments, offices and retail space.

The concepts will not apply to the side of that intersection that is closest to I-5. The Planning Commission recommended that change, and a City Council majority endorsed that idea in recognition of high traffic volumes at the intersection.

Development watchdog Colin Swales said the plans for making the three intersections more pedestrian friendly would only increase development and density, not help pedestrians.

"It's like a wolf in sheep's clothing," he said.

Swales said allowing buildings to be constructed closer to the streets would do away with spaces for public plazas and outdoor dining — amenities many residents said they wanted during the earlier workshops.

At the Walker Avenue and Ashland Street intersection, the concept designs envision improved crosswalks and sidewalks.

Among other features, Walker could be used as a "festival street" and host occasional outdoor fairs and markets.

At the North Mountain Avenue and East Main Street intersection, concepts include mixed-use apartment and retail buildings constructed close to the streets with parking tucked behind. Public art could be installed in outdoor gathering areas.

Green features at the intersections would include allowing rain runoff to flow off streets into special planters rather than pouring directly into the storm-drain system, which empties untreated runoff into local creeks.

To view architects' drawings of the various intersections and to read more details, visit www.dailytidings.com/pedestrianfriendly.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.