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Railroad buff fills tight space

Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

ASHLAND - A few train lovers will have the chance to live or work next to a railroad line thanks to another train aficionado.

A new, mixed-use commercial and residential building wedged onto a tiny, triangular lot 20 feet from the railroad tracks at Helman and Van Ness streets will be finished by July. Owner Wes Vail will rent an upstairs apartment and lease two business spaces downstairs.

Development of the building on the 3,400-square-foot lot is an example of the city's policy to fill vacant land rather than expand boundaries. The structure has a footprint of 2,183 square feet that includes a garage.

"If you see how we shoehorned it in there, it's incredible," said Darren Lecomte of Creative Home Design, Medford, whose firm developed the plans. "We had to do some serious stuff with the parking and landscaping requirements. It was intriguing."

Vail acquired the lot and a former railroad spur on the other side of Van Ness that runs to Central Street. At one time tracks ran across the land and street. He planned to relocate rail cars he owns for a tourist excursion railroad that would go over the Siskiyous.

But city officials didn't encourage rail tracks crossing Van Ness. Vail never applied to the city to develop the line.

Developer Gregg Adams came up with initial plans for the building and gained approval for construction. But Adams didn't go through with his intended purchase of the land, citing presence of an irrigation line that would be under the building.

Vail had plans finalized, then got a building permit. He rerouted the irrigation line.

"The real creative person was Gregg Adams," said city planner Mark Knox. "He was able to figure out multiple lines and setbacks that gave interest to those facades."

The upstairs apartment will have 1,800 square feet, two bedrooms and skylights. A deck built on top of the garage will offer a view.

A flat, windowless back wall next to the tracks features soundproof construction. Rooms used less often on both levels face the tracks.

A second parking spot will be beside the garage. A parking bay for three cars has been created on Van Ness next to the building. Parking is also available on Helman.

Wood siding will be painted brown with dark trim, said Vail, who grew up in Ashland but now lives in Santa Rosa, Calif.

"It's a like building a ship inside a bottle," said contractor Steve Asher. "It won't look commercial. It's mirroring vintage Victorian houses in the San Francisco era, but a simpler version."

Building costs alone will be near $400,000, said Asher. "It's a nice asset to a piece of ground that was worthless."

"It's a good foothold in the area in showing what can be done," said Lecomte. "I think this will help start some development."

Train lovers will only get a couple chances per day to see engines and cars pass by. Central Oregon Pacific Railroad trains usually pass by around midnight and 7 a.m.

A developer who likes trains is building a commercial and residential building on the tracks at Helman and Van Ness streets. The building features soundproofing.