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South Ashland Business Park plan gets unanimous OK

A new 5-acre business park development in south Ashland now goes to the City Council for review after the city Planning Commission unanimously gave the proposal its preliminary approval Tuesday night.

The 5.3-acre parcel, at 601 Washington St. adjacent to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area business office, is currently vacant and just outside of the city’s limit.

The proposal, filed by a Medford-based company called South Ashland Business Park LLC, is seeking approval for an annexation, zone change from “rural” to “employment,” and a development plan for flexible office space of various sizes from 1,000 to 5,000 square feet — and multi-tenant apartments for the property’s managers.

“I’ve lived and worked here for a long time and all I ever hear is ‘We need a place for small businesses to locate and grow,’” said Evan Archerd, the applicant, “We decided (with this land) what we need is flex space.”

The proposal, said to be “beneficial to the Ashland’s economy,” sparked a lengthy discussion about its impact on the overall traffic in the future, as it located right by the city’s developing employment area.

According to staff, the proposed project will find itself in the middle of new developments in Ashland once the city completes planning to expand Washington Street — a key avenue that “would ultimately serve 80 percent of our available employment land.”

“While you’re out there on site, you might think it’s separate from everything, but it’s actually very close to everything else,” Senior Planner Derek Severson said, referring to some of the city’s developing projects in the area, such the Croman Mill District.

Ashland has planned to turn Washington Street into an avenue, connecting it with Tolman Creek Road through Benson Street and Crowson Road, to increase accessibility throughout Croman Mill District, Severson said.

Commissioner Lynn Thompson said she’s concerned about the impact the proposed business park would have on the city’s ability to further develop the area.

“We’re at the first step of developing this area, and we’re breaching the limit and reaching for an exception,” Thompson said. “Are we going to end up with a agitated impact that is going to blow the city’s traffic problem out of proportion there?”

Prior transportation feasibility reports have not included or evaluated the impact of the proposal because it’s outside city limits. Still, because the area in South Ashland has been identified as employment land for several decades, staff believes the commission can make a finding, stating the impact won’t be significant, Severson said.

Staff also recommended the commission require street improvements that include bike lanes, travel lanes, park row and sidewalk on Washington Street, calling it “a reasonable solution … while still being sensitive with the wetland” on site. The applicants said they opposed the option because it would require an intensive amount of environmental permits.

Jay Harland, consultant of the project, said the application is only responsible to make street improvements based on existing developments and those that will be built “in a foreseeable future.”

“To answer Commissioner Thompson where the mobility standards being exceeded, that’s out in the future years,” Harland said, adding that the application also use background traffic growth of 20 years to propose the improvements.

Harland also proposed a new street improvements option at the meeting, which includes the staff recommendations, plus a retaining wall at the wetland boundary. The application has proposed an option with multi-use path as street improvements, which Harland said Public Works Department has OK’ed.

Mark DiRienzo, a local businessman, spoke in support of the project.

“We need to find ways to say ‘yes’ to project like this, but we also need to make sure they end up providing jobs, because that’s what we have shortage of,” DiRienzo said. “We lost a lot of businesses to Medford because we say ‘no’ a lot.”

Ashland resident Thomas Kennedy said he has some concerns, including the potential additional traffic from trucks and bigger vehicles, and impact to the wetland.

Harland said the application submitted its traffic analysis to Oregon Department of Transportation and received no further concerns about truck traffic.

The commission approved the street improvements with a retaining wall for Washington Street and agreed to recommend the annexation and zone change to the City Council. The project is now forwarded to the council to decide.

— Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.