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Ashland grants extensions to stalled developments

ASHLAND — The City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday to move forward on a proposal to grant stalled building projects an 18-month "recession extension" to give builders time to start work before their permits would normally expire.

The council voted Tuesday to have city staff amend the city's land-use ordinance to allow additional 18-month extensions. Developers already can get one 18-month extension for projects that have gone through the planning process and won approval.

The issue will come back to the council at a future meeting for a final vote. The Ashland Planning Commission previously split on whether recession extensions were a good idea.

Other Oregon cities, such as Portland and Newberg, have adopted similar extensions.

Council members Russ Silbiger, Greg Lemhouse, Kate Jackson and David Chapman voted for the proposal. Silbiger said the extensions would put people back to work.

"It's our responsibility to look at getting things moving again here," he said.

Lemhouse said he believed it would be unconscionable not to grant recession extensions to projects that had survived the planning process, but lost funding when the economy slumped.

"We can't look at these as projects," he said. "These are people,"

Chapman said he favored the extensions, but when the issue comes back to the council for a final vote, he wants the extension rules to be strict. He said 12-month extensions should perhaps be considered.

Council members Eric Navickas and Carol Voisin were not sold on the concept and voted against the extensions.

Navickas said before the economic collapse, the nation and Ashland were seeing an unprecedented bubble of speculation, and developers were proposing high-end projects like pricey condominiums that did not fit some people's notion of Ashland.

"The belief was the bubble would never burst," he said.

He said construction might actually be able to move forward more quickly if approvals for some projects were allowed to lapse and developers started over in the planning process with concepts that are suited to the times.

Community Development Department Director Bill Molnar said a handful of developments will lose their approval this coming spring if the extensions are not allowed. He guessed that developers of one or two dozen projects would ultimately seek the extra extensions.

"They're just at a standstill," he said.

Many developers have been unable to finance their projects, according to city staff.

Silbiger, Lemhouse, Jackson and Chapman also voted to have staff prepare an ordinance that would start the clock for beginning work on development projects after all appeals are completed. Navickas and Voisin opposed the idea.

As city law now stands, a developer who wins approval for a project, and then wins again when that project is appealed in court or the state Land Use Board of Appeals, would not be able to build if the city's approval deadline had expired during the appeal process.

"It's not fair that you could lose your project through absolutely no fault of your own," Silbiger said.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.