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Planning Commission OKs cottage housing plan

A move to clear the way for more cottage-style housing in Ashland passed another hurdle Tuesday night before the city Planning Commission. Commissioners voted unanimously to approve homes of about 800 square feet either in clusters on larger lots or in tandem with existing larger homes. The idea is to create more affordable  housing in Ashland where, according to the city’s own estimates, fewer people can afford to buy a home or even rent one within the city limits.

Owner-occupied homes have dropped to half the occupied homes in the city, down from 52 percent in 2010 and 58 percent in 1970, according to Ashland’s planning department calculations. The median home price has meanwhile jumped to $482,500, going up by 5.8 percent over the past year according to Zillow, which tracks prices. Rents have also continued to rise with a median rent of $1,217 per month. The vacancy rate hovers at less than 2 percent.

Comparing median home value to median income, Ashland has seen the price of a house climb from $14,00 in 1970 to $408,400 in 2010, while median income has gone from $8,300 to $40,800, meaning the cost of a home as a multiple of annual income has gone from less than two to more than 10. Percentage of income spent on rent has gone from 22 to 50 percent for low income earners and 12 percent to 24 percent for median income earners from 1970 to 2010.

“I agree in general with trying to get more affordable housing,” Ashland resident Colin Swales told commissioners. “Obviously this type of development could give the opportunity for people to live in their homes and have neighbors to look after them,” he said while encouraging commissioners not to squeeze homes too close together.

The homes could be arranged a variety of ways in the proposed ordinance by keeping existing homes and building around them, or by creating entirely new developments featuring one home at 1,000 square feet surrounded by smaller homes of 800 square feet or less. If the existing home is larger than 1,000 square feet, the additional size would not factor into the home owner's ability to build several smaller units, so long as they fit on the lot with green space, separation of six feet between homes and available parking.

Commissioners considered allowing the loosening of square footage requirements so builders and home owners could create garages with the cottage homes, but it failed to pass. Commissioner Melanie Mindlin wanted to encourage the possibility of garages as opposed to car ports, which she said often appear cluttered. But commissioners concluded the current proposal allows for garages but affects the overall buildable space which they decided was more appropriate.

Commissioner Haywood Norton noted that in many larger lots the existing home is often set in the middle. He asked if homes could be moved to make a cottage development work. “Would I be allowed to pick up the house and move it over?” The answer was yes. In fact, it’s allowed now, he was told, as planner Brandon Goldman explained that is what is happening with the property on Mountain Avenue where an older existing home is being moved up on the lot to accommodate a cluster of cottages and multi-family housing around it.

The city of Ashland currently allows cottage-type homes as accessory dwelling units, or granny houses, on lots with an existing home, but until this proposal had not specifically encouraged multiple units being built on larger lots or entire developments of near-tiny house proportions.

In voting for the proposal commissioners agreed more workforce housing needed to be built within the city to assist those working in Ashland who could not afford to live in town. Commissioner Troy Brown made the motion which was seconded by Michael Dawkins. Brown kept his comments in favor brief, stating that the proposal would “be a good way to offer more affordable housing.” Dawkins in seconding merely stated his agreement.

If passed, developers and home owners could begin a process of creating smaller homes on various lots around the city so long as the homes meet the size requirements and can fit on the lot. Property owners within 200 feet of a site would be notified of applications under the ordinance. The Planning Commission would rule on applications, with decisions appealable to the City Council.

Estimates for the selling price of the cottages, according to city planners, would be roughly $240,000 per home, which is roughly half the cost of a larger home in Ashland now.

The city Housing and Human Services Commission will review the cottage housing proposal at its regular meeting starting at 4:30 p.m. today, Sept. 28, in the Siskiyou Room of the Community Development Building at 51 Winburn Way. Discussion of cottage housing is scheduled for 4:45 to 5:05 p.m.

The City Council is now expected to take a vote on a first reading of the ordinance at its meeting on Nov. 7.

—Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.