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Croman plan could include hundreds of housing units

The City Council raised some questions Monday night about a new proposal that would include as many as 250 housing units — including affordable options — on the largest unused parcel of land in the city.

Croman Mill District, a roughly 95-acre lot in the southeast quadrant of Ashland, was proposed as an economic development site in 2008. A feasibility study and an urban renewable study in 2010 then identified a number of needed infrastructure improvement such as roads and utilities.

“Some of the initial opportunity for large-scale employers didn’t pan out … because of the infrastructure costs associated with the projects,” Senior Planner Brandon Goldman told the council Monday.

The proposed revision to the plan — which staff hopes will help jump start development — is to change the zoning of the light industrial, commercial and mixed use areas to “residential,” among other adjustments. The goal is to help reduce associated costs, Goldman said.

The proposal could create around 250 housing units, including developments of cottage housing, subdivisions and small single houses. It would also trigger a requirement for affordable housing units to be included, Goldman told the council.

“(The owners) want to include a bigger portion of housing development to help reduce the infrastructure cost,” Goldman said, adding that the developers will be responsible for improvement costs.

The council raised some concerns about the impact additional housing could have on local schools and traffic in the area.

“I’m not so in favor of this,” Councilor Mike Morris said. “250 houses are a lot of houses … traffic is a component that should be adequately addressed.”

Councilor Traci Darrow said she also worries that the additional housing developments could “be impeding” the potential developments of different projects.

The city hasn’t completed technical analyses that would fully evaluate the needs and issues that might be the result of the revision. Staff came to the council Monday for direction, Goldman said.

“I want to reiterate that nothing has been formalized,” Goldman said. “We want to come to the council in the early stage to see where the council wants to go regarding the scope of this work.”

The rezone could create new improvement costs to cover upgrading utilities and streets, according to Goldman. Staff also recommends the council establish a “memorandum of understanding” to define the city’s responsibilities early in the process.

The council would also need to address environmental issues with the state Department of Environmental Quality if the site is designated as residential area. The city has found contaminants from lumber mill production left behind in the past, Goldman said.

Staff also presented an option to expand the district by annexing an additional seven-acre piece of land immediately adjacent to Siskiyou Boulevard.

Councilor Rich Rosenthal asked if staff would benefit from “outside help” in the process of preparing technical analyses.

Goldman said most of the work at this point needs to be done in-house.

The city has been eyeing developing the former Croman lumber mill site since at least 2010, when the council adopted the Croman Mill District and design standards. The district was proposed to include spaces for offices, mixed-use buildings, open spaces and a park.

The project has since faced economic struggles and some community push-back. The city is still in the reclamation process at the site, including taking out decks of logs that were buried by the lumber mill production.

“So there is the potential to unlock some progresses here,” Councilor Dennis Slattery said at the meeting. “But — one, I don’t want to get locked in doing this. And two — … you might need more input from stakeholders.”

Goldman said staff will present a detailed report of the proposed revision, its potential costs, resources and the project’s timeline in “early spring or late summer.”

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