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Ashland holds line on rezoning

Fearing more encroachment of downtown activity into a residential portion of the historic Railroad District, Ashland City Council voted last week not to allow commercial zoning for two historic houses across North Pioneer Street from Ruby’s & Gil’s restaurants.

The city historic and planning commissions both earlier voted unanimously against allowing a change from R-2 (residential) to commercial zoning, though owners complained the big city parking lot of 65 spaces, immediately adjacent, wasn’t there earlier and brought a lot of noise, car alarms, barking dogs, drug deals, partying and drinking in yards until wee hours.

Both houses have office or retail use now — and councilors said they don’t see how a zone change would reduce any of the downtown hubbub or increased traffic, but that the city has a responsibility to step up patrols in an effort to calm things.

A slew of neighbors on nearby B Street said the restaurants, Historic Ashland Armory and Ashland Food Co-op have brought a lot of traffic and nighttime activity, but they fear a nearby commercial zoning, bordering on some of their properties, might open the way for tear-downs and multi-story buildings, which could change the charming character of the neighborhood.

Planning Director Bill Molnar said the two homes at 150 N. Pioneer St., subject of the zoning change request, are in good shape and the owners said they had no plans to remove them. He also said Pioneer Street has recorded a 50 percent increase in traffic in the last 25 years. Residents noted it is essentially commercial now.

“We have enough commercial zoning now,” said B Street resident Marilyn Stewart. “Let’s increase cameras and patrols, give more tickets. … It would change the character and charm of the area. We would be devastated to be the property bordering it.”

“Hold the line. Stop the creep,” said Joe Lusa of B Street. “We’re seeing the commercial impacts from Gil's, Ruby’s, the increase in parking, traffic, the beer bottles on our lawn. To encourage commercial zoning might exacerbate that more. The Armory is a venue for music, which is wonderful, but it adds to parking problems and carrying on at 2 in the morning.”

Dorothy Brooks of B Street said, “There’s more noise and traffic since Ruby’s and Gil’s started serving (beer and wine) and food and having outside seating. There’s a real limit on parking, and we can’t imagine what commercial zoning would do to help the folks at 150 Pioneer. … The city is not doing enough to patrol the parking lot. … This is a real neighborhood. We pay attention to each other’s lives and help each other out. We moved here for the beauty and ambience. … It would be pathetic if we end up with a big building behind us.”

Though opposed to the rezoning, B Street resident Larry Cooper said, “I knew it wouldn’t be the greatest place to live, with the noise and traffic and motor homes parked in front for days and people living in them. It can be negative, but the positive outweighs it. We choose to live at ground zero. It’s an exciting place to be. We can walk everywhere. If you buy here, you should know you’re going to have lots of traffic, railroad noise and people doing odd things.”

Councilor Greg Lemhouse said the denial by the historic and planning commissions carries much weight and the council shouldn’t set a precedent of going against them. Councilor Carol Voisin echoed the thought, adding that she “can’t impinge on the trust” of neighbors by the huge step of rezoning.

Councilor Mike Morris, the only dissenting voice on council, said the Railroad District at one time was run down and only bounced back because of the commercial activity of B&Bs.

“I don’t see how making this commercial would change its character,” he said.

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

Increased traffic from Ruby's and other Pioneer Street businesses have created headaches for some residents in the Ashland Railroad District. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta