The start of construction on a large parcel of undeveloped land downtown has caused the loss of at least 70 public parking spaces.

The start of construction on a large parcel of undeveloped land downtown has caused the loss of at least 70 public parking spaces.

The property that abuts Lithia Way near its intersection with First Street is fenced off now that crews have started excavation for a new, 18,577-square-foot building that will feature business and condominium space. Meanwhile, several parking spaces abutting the downtown Plaza island were eliminated this month.

The Ashland Planning Department has been fielding complaints about the loss of parking on the undeveloped land along Lithia Way, staff members said. The land sat vacant for years after Copeland Lumber and an office and condominium complex were cleared away to make way for new development.

In 2005, a 70,000-square-foot building known as Northlight was proposed for the land, but was rejected as too large by the Ashland Planning Department.

The land was then divided, with plans to construct several smaller buildings there, but when the real estate market collapsed, developers lost the property to a bank.

Last summer, Medford-based First Place Partners won Planning Commission approval to build the 18,577-square-foot building on the site, with an anticipated start time this year.

The city of Ashland, which owns a public parking lot next to the undeveloped land, had been leasing the empty site to use as public parking, said Ashland Associate Planner Derek Severson.

With the start of construction, that land is now fenced off and no longer available for public parking, he said.

"They have been letting the city use it all that time," Severson said. "People came to look at it as public parking, but it was on private property."

About 50 to 55 paved parking spaces had been used by the public, he said.

People were not supposed to park on the graveled parts of the site but had been parking there, as well, Severson said.

Combined, the paved and gravel portions of the property created room for at least 70 parking spaces, he said.

Ashland resident Brent Thompson said he has had to kick more people out of his parking lot that serves a commercial building he owns on Oak Street. The building is a few blocks away from downtown.

Thompson said the parking problem got worse after the undeveloped Lithia Way land was fenced off, although he always faces problems because of the congested downtown parking situation and a lack of adequate parking at the popular Ashland Food Co-op on First Street.

On another parking front, people can no longer park up against the downtown Plaza island.

Before a winter and spring reconstruction of the Plaza, the curb encircling the island had been painted yellow, although people were allowed to temporarily park on one side of the island and use the area as a loading zone.

When the Plaza reconstruction was finished in April, the island curb was not painted.

For the past few months, people have grown accustomed to parking adjacent to the island.

On June 18, citing safety concerns in the congested Plaza area, the Ashland City Council endorsed a Transportation Commission recommendation to repaint the Plaza island curb yellow, creating a no-parking zone but allowing a temporary loading zone on one side of the island.

With the curbs now freshly painted yellow, the traditional parking situation around the Plaza island has been restored.

While the loss of parking spaces on the Plaza and along Lithia Way has many residents, workers and tourists hunting for alternative downtown parking spots, some people were philosophical about the changes.

Seaside resident Neil Branson, who was in Ashland to see an Oregon Shakespeare Festival play and has been visiting for decades, says he usually gets lucky and finds an empty spot close to the place he is trying to go.

If not, Branson said he parks in a lot along upper Lithia Park and enjoys the walk to the downtown area.

"A long walk to a play is just not a big deal," he said.

Boynton Beach, Fla., resident Elizabeth Way — also in town to see a play — said she parked in the Hargadine Street parking garage and was amazed that she had to pay only a few dollars to do so.

OSF box office employees had recommended the garage, Way said.

"I've had no parking problems so far," she said, noting that parking in Ashland is much easier than in South Florida.

Daily fees at the Hargadine parking garage, which is managed by the city, range from $1 to $3.

Some residents who frequent the downtown, such as employees of downtown businesses, buy monthly parking passes to the garage for $20 each, rather than searching for free parking lots or street-side parking.

To encourage vehicle turnover and access to downtown businesses, the city has two- and four-hour time limits in place for most free downtown parking spaces.

Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or