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Will density be the new Normal?

Neighbors have raised concerns that a development plan for 94 acres on Ashland's outskirts could worsen traffic, reduce wildlife habitat and further strain inadequate water, sewer and storm drain systems.

Ashland city councilors took public comments on the proposed Normal Neighborhood Plan last week and will take the issue up again during a May 20 meeting that starts at 7 p.m. in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

The Normal Neighborhood Plan is named after Normal Avenue, which cuts through the rural acreage sprinkled with homes on large lots.

The land is under Jackson County jurisdiction but inside Ashland's urban growth boundary. Future annexations could gradually bring properties within city limits.

The land lies east of Ashland Middle School and is bordered by East Main Street to the north and the railroad tracks to the south. Clay Street marks its easternmost boundary.

With input from the public, city staff and the Ashland Planning Commission are attempting to create a plan to guide future development for land that could accommodate up to 500 new homes.

While 28 percent of the land would be set aside as conservation areas to protect wetlands and creeks, many neighbors said a proposal to allow high-density housing on 7 percent of the land would cause negative impacts.

The high-density housing would be located not far from the intersection of East Main and Clay streets.

Representing three neighborhood associations in the area, Creek Drive resident Bryce Anderson asked that the high-density designation be eliminated from the plan.

He said high-density housing would cause more traffic on a section of East Main Street that lacks bike lanes, sidewalks, left-hand turn lanes and other amenities.

Improvements to aid pedestrians, cyclists and drivers might not be made to East Main Street for another 25 years, Anderson said.

"We'll be living with potential problems for decades," he said.

Anderson said neighbors do support responsible development there to reduce fire hazard from vegetation.

Neighbor Amy Miller said the Clay Street area already has high-density housing, including a large apartment complex and condominiums.

"Lower Clay Street has already done its bit for high-density housing in Ashland," Miller said, adding that the area is beginning to feel like a dumping ground for such developments.

Ashland High School teacher and neighbor Betsy Bishop said she supported well-designed development. She said neighbors should be open to more housing in the area and avoid a "not in my backyard" mentality.

Bishop said the Normal Neighborhood Plan, if carried out over time, would provide much-needed housing in Ashland.

"We are losing our young families in Ashland," she said, noting that two of the town's five elementary schools have closed and the high school has lost 400 students.

Bishop said 60 percent of Ashland School District teachers live outside the city in surrounding communities.

"It's all about the cost of housing," she said, adding that Ashland is in danger of becoming a town only for wealthy retirees.

Other neighbors said sewage must be pumped uphill from the Meadow Drive area south of the proposed high density section. Sewage has sometimes backed up onto people's property, and adding more housing would worsen the problem, they said.

Neighbors said they also experience water-pressure problems, and storm drains to carry off rainwater are inadequate.

Others raised concerns about losing the rural feel of the area and habitat for wildlife. They also objected to allowing three-story buildings.

The plan would allow for neighborhood-centric businesses such as coffee shops, but some residents said they didn't want businesses in the area.

For more information about the Normal Neighborhood Plan, visit www.dailytidings.com/normal-plan.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

This stretch of Normal Avenue, between East Main Street to the north and railroad tracks to the south, is part of Ashland’s proposed Normal Neighborhood District.