A new proposal to build two low-income housing projects, one on Spring Street and one downtown, appears to be a sensible compromise that could avoid years of costly legal battles. City officials and the east Medford neighbors who objected strongly to the Cherry Creek project as originally proposed should embrace the new plan as long as a couple of concerns are addressed.
The Housing Authority of Jackson County had proposed building 100 apartment units on vacant land on Spring Street adjacent to Donohue-Frohnmayer Park. Neighbors immediately declared the project "incompatible" with the existing neighborhood, flooding this newspaper with letters to the editor and packing the City Council chambers to demand the project be halted.
The council acquiesced, but the state Land Use Board of Appeals ruled the city had made errors in denying the project. The city appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals, and the Housing Authority threatened a federal lawsuit alleging the city had violated the civil rights of low-income residents.
The new plan would cut the original project in half, building 50 two-story apartments on Spring Street. The Housing Authority would transfer 2.5 acres of the 6-acre property to the city for a park and buffer between the complex and Spring Street.
In exchange, the city would transfer to the Housing Authority the property at Sixth and Grape streets behind the Mail Tribune for a three- or four-story building with retail space on the ground floor and 50 apartments on the floors above. The property now consists of a city-owned parking lot and the building housing Bonsai Teriyaki and Sushi, which would be torn down. The restaurant's owners would receive assistance in relocating from the Housing Authority and the Medford Urban Renewal Agency.
The City Council will discuss the proposal in its meeting at 7 tonight.
The first concern about the downtown project is parking, but Housing Authority officials say off-street parking would be provided, perhaps underground below the complex. That would solve the problem.
The other concern is children. With no outdoor play space, the downtown location would not be ideal for families with small children. The Housing Authority could not legally turn away families with small children if they wished to apply, but the units could be designed to appeal more to adults or families with older children. The Spring Street project would be a better place for young families.
New residential units would be a welcome addition to downtown. The original plans for the Evergreen project called for residential units, and the original plans for The Commons included a residential component, as well, but both fell victim to the economic downturn.
Bonsai Teriyaki's owner, Kwang Yi, said he wants a decision from the city soon so he can decide to move or to concentrate his efforts on his other location on Barnett Road. The council should move as quickly as possible to accommodate him.