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Park Square apartments get commission’s green light

Despite a flurry of neighbors’ objections about human density, traffic and parking issues, the Ashland Planning Commission Tuesday gave a unanimous thumbs-up on the 15-unit, 60-bedroom Park Square apartment complex on upper Park Street at Siskiyou Boulevard.

The commission listened at a testy public hearing Sept. 11, fielding complaints that the four-bedroom apartments (with shared kitchen) are really “dorms” and would invite tenant-packing, thus overloading the parking lot and “stacking” traffic at the busy, angled intersection.

With some hand-wringing, commissioners noted there might be some truth in those fears, but the applicants followed all the rules and are good to go, with a few conditions about fences, trees and drainage.

Commissioner Lynn Thompson noted Ashland’s codes fail to recognize “new housing styles,” in which people pack multiple renters in one bedroom, thus lowering rent, but also upping demand for parking.

The city’s “old school” definition of one bedroom has not evolved with this “new world” that is coming into being, she said, and changes need to be made.

Commissioner Troy Brown countered that this is not a new design, as he was building them in California from the ‘60s onward — and they are not dorms, but apartments, so if the builders met code for four-bedroom apartments, the commission can’t decide it needs to rewrite the ordinances.

“If you want the rules to change, this is not the time and place,” Brown said. “It’s for us to ask if they have met all the rules — and that’s what they have done.”

Chairman Roger Pearce said they met the definition of multi-family dwelling units, not group living units — and city code only says you can’t house more than five people unrelated people in an apartment.

A lot of the public comment on the parking demand created by the complex calculated one car for each apartment for a total need of 60 spaces, twice what the plans call for, leading Thompson to say, “it could be substantially more than 60,” if couples, for instance, share a room, but builders are going by city code, which calls for two spaces per three-bedroom and larger apartments, with no cap on the number of bedrooms. Brown said that code might have to be studied and rewritten.

Commissioner Melanie Mindlin assented, noting, “It’s likely to exceed parking demand but there’s nothing we can do about it. We need to look at it in the future if use is different than the parking code suggests.”

Commissioners faulted the applicants for submitting five studies on site design and traffic after the deadline, which staff included in the meeting packet in violation of city and state law. These out-of-bounds parts of the record could skew how commissioners might weigh conditions on the project, so a frustrated Pearce ordered them tossed out of the record, causing a debate on how commissioners are supposed to “unsee” them. They informally decided they can’t unsee them but they can try not to give them weight.

Commissioner Michael Dawkins commented, “You can’t forget something you’ve read.”

One of the deleted studies minimized the trips-per-day, as calculated in the morning and afternoon rush hour, and Thompson called the figures “ridiculous.” Pearce said people actually make more trips in midday, not rush times. A future turn lane or two-lane sections were suggested to prevent queuing, but Brown said the commission can’t make that a condition; they can only recommend it to Public Works.

An applicants’ traffic study said there were only a few crashes at that intersection since 2000, but Commissioner Alan Harper noted, “There are crashes, but what are you going to do about it?” Park Street presents hard-to-fix problems, dropping steeply downslope from the south, then presenting a severe dog-leg jog to continue after it crosses Siskiyou.

Neighbors have objected to cutting two redwoods on the vacant lot, but Dawkins, a horticulturalist, said they are around 30 years old and “just good trees.” A deodara cedar on the lot, like those in front of Safeway, is a “tough tree” and will survive having a big apartment complex built next to it, he said.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

A site plan shows the orientation of the proposed apartment complex, with Siskiyou Boulevard on the north side, Park Street on the left and parking on the south end of the three-quarter acre lot. (Drawing by{ }Kistler Small + White)
The lot is diagonal, coming to a point at the intersection of Park Street (at right) and Siskiyou Boulevard (out of the photo frame at left). (Tidings file photo)