ASHLAND — Graders clearing the way for 17 new Craftsman-style dwellings of Helman Springs Homes could be a sign the housing market is nosing upward, say its backers.

ASHLAND — Graders clearing the way for 17 new Craftsman-style dwellings of Helman Springs Homes could be a sign the housing market is nosing upward, say its backers.

Streets and other infrastructure are going in during the coming month, with homes to be built on order from buyers, says broker-developer Eric Bonetti of Royce Real Estate. He says the development will fill a gap in the Ashland market for homes in the $350,000 to $425,000 range.

The project made its way through the Planning Commission and City Council years ago, then went into foreclosure. It was picked up by Bonetti and two other Ashland investors, whom, he says, wouldn't have done it without approvals already in place.

Developers are confident their project will attract buyers.

"Banks are working pretty well if you have good credit and verifiable earning history," Bonetti says.

Recent inquiries have come from an investor, a person wanting to sell bare land and move into town and a family with several children wanting to live near Helman School a block away, he says.

Bonetti plans to build an initial spec home that will set the required Craftsman style, and it will be a duplicate of one of the homes in his six-home Hamilton Place development, off Tolman Road. Ten of the homes will be 1,900 square feet and the rest larger, around 2,500 square feet.

The 4.3-acre site wraps around the old Helman Baths and includes four small open spaces, bike path and 1-acre wetlands, left as is on the western side. It has views of Mount Ashland and Grizzly Peak.

The century-old Helman Baths and adjacent Otis Helman House, a Craftsman structure, were built by the son of Ashland pioneer Abe Helman and served as a mineral spa with camping around it, says Ashland historian George Kramer.

The "beautiful wood frame building" around the pool burned in about 1960, Kramer notes, and was replaced by a plain metal structure, still standing and privately owned, with pool inside.

The development's promotions note that it won't be "soulless tract homes" and doesn't allow "car-dominated fronts." Vehicles must use rear alleys to get to garages. It says homes are "ecologically oriented" but will include solar and other green features only on the wish of buyers.

"This isn't Verde Village (a stalled green-sustainable project three blocks away), but I don't know how anyone could build without those features," Bonetti says. "People move to Ashland because they want that. ... Ideally, they will be LEED certified."

The development is surrounded by homes from the 1970s, and the Helman project "is going to upgrade values in the neighborhood and fill out the new, quality home inventory for Ashland," he says.

The large area, bordered by Otis and Randy streets, has been a nice open space, says neighbor John Kalb, who testified against the development before the City Council. It would have made a good park, he says, because "it's a beautiful pasture with birds, wildlife and wetlands and it's a bad idea for the environment, but that's progress."

Bonetti says, "There are lots of beautiful parks in Ashland, and I don't think any home is much more than a quarter-mile from one."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.