Construction is under way on a low-income housing project that met stiff opposition in a Spring Street neighborhood in east Medford.
"We broke ground a couple of weeks ago," said Jason Elzy, executive director of the Jackson County Housing Authority.
The 50-unit Cherry Creek apartment complex will take about a year to build, and neighbors, who opposed the project for other reasons, already have complained about noise and dust.
"We're trying to closely watch the dust control," Elzy said.
The Cherry Creek project faced criticism from neighbors because they thought a high-density residential complex was out of character with the neighborhood and would generate too much traffic.
The Medford City Council in September 2011 rejected the project. But the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ruled that the city made 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 over the project.
The Housing Authority reduced the size from 100 units to 50 units on Spring Street and transferred 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 will give $150,000 to the city for development costs for the transferred property.
In exchange, the city agreed to swap a commercially zoned lot at the corner of Sixth and Grape streets to the Housing Authority, which plans to build a 30,000-square-foot building that would contain 50 units of low-income housing.
The Housing Authority and the city haven't finalized their deal on the Sixth Street project, awaiting environmental reviews to determine whether there is any contamination of the soil caused by underground storage tanks. The property is a parking lot.
Elzy said the Housing Authority will seek land-use approvals for the four-story apartment complex this summer after the deal is concluded. He said it could take up to five years for the project to be built.
The one- and two-bedroom apartment complex would have 50 parking spaces, many of which would be accessed from an alley between the complex and the Mail Tribune building.
Elzy said the Housing Authority screens prospective tenants by conducting criminal background checks and contacting previous landlords. Property managers also review the Jackson County Jail log to make sure tenants haven't been involved in criminal activity.
"We don't allow illegal drug activities on our properties," Elzy said. "We conduct periodic inspections of units, and we work closely with law enforcement."
Elzy said smoking isn't allowed inside the apartments, but a smoking area will be designated at both the Spring Street and Sixth Street projects.
The Housing Authority typically has waiting lists for its units throughout the county, and Elzy said he anticipates it will have a waiting list for the Spring Street complex. The Housing Authority operates more than 1,000 units countywide.
Harriet Pringle, who lives near the Spring Street project, said, "I will never be comfortable with the project."
She said she will have to put up with the noise and dust while accepting the fact that she will have a lot of new neighbors.
"There's nothing we can do, so life goes on," she said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.