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Gardeners seek to bury SOU plans

ASHLAND — Plans to create faculty housing near a community garden on the Southern Oregon University campus have drawn criticism from nearby residents who say it will have a negative impact on the neighborhood.

The "faculty village" is part of a 10-year master plan designed to help SOU attract and retain students and faculty by providing affordable, lifestyle-friendly housing, university officials said.

The master plan goes before the Ashland Planning Commission Tuesday. Public comments will be taken at the meeting, set for 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers, 1175 E. Main St. If passed, it goes to the City Council Aug. 18.

The plan calls for 20 to 30 faculty housing units, each with four townhouses, north and south of a student-run community garden on Henry and Ashland streets. The housing would address the university's difficulties in attracting younger faculty members who can't afford Ashland's high prices, said Eric Ridenour of SERA Architects in Portland, author of the plan.

Included are an additional five units of faculty housing, each with four townhouses, below the railroad tracks on Walker Street, allowing faculty members with children to live near a middle school and elementary school across the street, said Ridenour.

The master plan also calls for razing aging dormitories up Indiana Street and building new dorms below Siskiyou Boulevard that feature apartments and suites.

Rivers Brown, who owns a home adjacent to the garden, said faculty should be integrated into the community, not insulated. He said he has gone door-to-door organizing resistance to the faculty village because it's too dense for the area's residential nature and will hurt neighbors' views.

Randall Hopkins, a neighbor and member of the "working group" opposing the faculty village, said that approval of a master plan by the city removes it from the normal planning process where neighbors have more input and "you get a better outcome."

SOU originally had proposed relocating the garden, operated by the student-run Ecology Center of the Siskiyous, to the north side of the campus, below Siskiyou Boulevard. But members of the eight-year-old community garden gathered about 500 signatures opposing relocation, Brown said. The organic garden is open to students and community members, and a fee is charged for water.

Ridenour said the faculty housing now will be built around the garden, which will be renovated with interpretive signs, marked pathways for the public, a welcoming gate, places to sit and weed control.

"It's always been the intent of the university to work with the gardeners. There was no intent to move them against their will," said Ridenour.

He added, "Some people think organic gardening is a scary and unfamiliar concept, so why not educate people about it?"

Brown said there's no guarantee the garden won't be relocated later. He also expressed distaste for plans to upgrade the plot.

"They want an 'enhanced garden,' " he said. "What they mean is they don't like what permaculture looks like."

SOU's master plan has taken advantage of many "placemaking opportunities" to create green and open areas that "capture people's imaginations and have a place in their hearts," Ridenour said.

"It's important in university planning to make a strong impression the community can take pride in," he added.

During the planning phase, SOU officials learned all universities are having trouble attracting students to old-style dorm living and should upgrade to the suite-and-apartment model. Planners envision four L-shaped complexes across from and south of McNeal Pavilion, which now are tennis courts and open space.

These may replace the 45-year-old Cascade dorm complex, which is "near the end of its life, said Ridenour. SOU has not made a final decision on Cascade, but if it's razed, the area could be "put in the land bank" for eventual academic use, he added.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Gardeners seek to bury SOU plans