After more than a year of debate, the City Council and the Medford Urban Renewal Agency board approved a major step in efforts to build low-income housing on Spring Street and downtown.
Eugene resident Dave Frohnmayer, whose family name is on Donahue-Frohnmayer Park next to the proposed Cherry Creek housing project on Spring Street, voiced his support for the agreement.
"We believe the action taken will preserve that park and preserve that neighborhood," he said.
The Cherry Creek proposal generated strong opposition from neighbors in the Spring Street area, and the City Council in September 2011 rejected the project. But the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ruled the city made serious mistakes in denying the Housing Authority's application.
The Housing Authority threatened a discrimination lawsuit against the city last year, which led to a compromise with the city.
The Housing Authority offered to reduce the complex size from 100 units to 50 units on Spring Street and transfer 2.5 acres of the 6-acre property to the city for park land and a buffer between the complex and Spring Street. The Housing Authority would give $150,000 to the city for development costs for the transferred property.
In exchange, the city would swap a commercial-zoned lot at the corner of Sixth and Grape streets to the Housing Authority, which would build a 30,000-square-foot building that would house retail on the bottom floor and contain 50 units of low-income housing.
Appraisals found the Spring Street property was worth $129,000 more than the city property. After the council balked at paying the difference, the Housing Authority agreed to pay it.
The council and the MURA board agreed to the deal Thursday.
"In the final analysis, this is in the community interest to approve this," Councilor Bob Strosser said.
Councilor Chris Corcoran abstained from voting. Only Councilor Karen Blair voted against the agreement, but offered no explanation.
After the meeting, she said, "I continue to have concerns." Blair said she wouldn't elaborate on her concerns, saying she felt executive session discussions constrained her from going into the matter any further.
Medford resident Ron Norris said the Spring Street neighborhood has spent $40,000 on legal fees battling the proposed Cherry Creek project. He said the agreement is the lesser of two evils.
"I believe the Housing Authority's Cherry Creek project is incompatible with the neighborhood," he said.
Mark Millner, chairman of the Parking Commission, said he was not against low-income housing in downtown Medford but did oppose the removal of a parking lot on Sixth Street.
"My main concern is that this will knock out 100 parking spaces," he said.
The city has found the Sixth Street parking lot is not heavily used.
With the possibility that the Holly Theatre could reopen, Millner said the city could need the parking lot in the future as more businesses open their doors in the downtown.
Former councilor Greg Jones said he encouraged the council to approve the agreement.
"I would like to see this come to a conclusion," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.