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Ashland mayor proposes quality-of-life development efforts

Ashland needs to change its approach to development if it wants to maintain its quality of life in the long-term, Mayor John Stromberg told residents in his State of the City address Tuesday night. Doing that, he says, means making better use of the infrastructure the city already has to accommodate growth within its restrictive urban growth boundary.

Since 1982, Ashland has maintained a policy of pursuing "infill" in existing developments over expansion of the city's geographic footprint. To do that, the city has, among other measures, encouraged construction of multiple new housing units on existing residential lots, as well as consolidation of those developments to avoid damaging the city's prized scenery. 

Addressing a packed house in the Ashland Community Center, the mayor described himself as a believer in market freedom and the need for minimal regulations. "But laissez-faire development doesn't result in a good quality of life," he said.

Ashland's population growth has remained relatively modest in recent years, increasing by just 40 people between 2013 and 2014, but the mayor said demographic changes have been enough to show weaknesses in the city's development strategy.

Stromberg pointed to what he described as the unintended consequences: Residential neighborhoods with only one main thoroughfare, upstairs apartments in the city's mixed-use planning overlay that don't house employees of their ground-floor businesses. The mayor also attributed steady decreases in enrollment in the Ashland School District to a lack of family-friendly housing developments within the city.

Stromberg's proposed solution is five-fold:

  • Concentrating residential development along a defined public transit loop
  • Fostering family-friendly developments of houses with at least three bedrooms and adjacent yard space.
  • Modifying mixed-use housing overlay to provide for local employees and business owners.
  • Building basic infrastructure to allow development of the 65-acre Croman Mill Site.
  • Reducing traffic impact on pedestrians in the downtown core.

He also suggested that that the city should pursue a transfer system for development rights. This would allow landowners within specific planning zones to sell the building rights that came with their properties to landowners with more profitable holdings.

Stromberg said he and community development director Bill Molnar will have to approach state and regional planning partners for input, and that the city will likely partner with the Rogue Valley Transit District to achieve the public transportation goals he outlined. "This is a town for connection, and we all connect to each other," he said.

The mayor said he's asking the City Council to give direction to planning staff regarding how to proceed with each of the proposals.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

Ashland mayor John Stromberg, right, and councilor Pam Marsh hand out cookies after Stromberg gave a speech during the State of the City address on Tuesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch