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Proposed housing project still on hold

Talent City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday for a comprehensive plan map amendment to bring in a 35-house project with smaller, lower-cost lots and structures, but that may not be enough to ensure the project moves forward.

Beside the map change, councilors also need to approve a zone change, setback variances and a subdivision plan. They ran out time Wednesday night after nearly three hours of reports, deliberations and public testimony that included opposition for several reasons. Deliberation will continue March 15.

“This project is an opportunity for the city to get some housing. We need this housing,” said Councilor John Harrison after the vote. “It may not be 100 percent of what we want, but it is reality. To deny it any further just doesn’t make sense.”

Suncrest Homes developer Charlie Hamilton has proposed using 4.37 acres on Talent Avenue next to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production building and the Fabricated Glass factories.

Hamilton said he would purchase the property if approvals are given, but he was uncertain after the meeting whether the project will go forward. The sellers have received an offer on the site, which he has countered, but he didn’t know whether they will wait for the process to play out.

“Your citizens are telling you there is a crisis. We can’t fix that problem, but we can put a dent in it,” said Hamilton. “We felt we designed a project that is affordable.”

The property is zoned for light industrial, but studies done by ECO Northwest for the city show a surplus of such land and a lack of land for residential development.

Home sizes are projected to be from 800 to 1,400 square feet. There would be six stand-alone houses and a mix of townhouses, common-wall houses and zero lot-line houses. Lot size would average 2,800 square feet. Hamilton hopes the lowest-priced units would be less than $300,000. A .4-acre lot would be held in reserve for development of multifamily housing later, he said.

Realtor John Steinbergs said there are only six non-fixer-up houses for sale in Talent, with the lowest priced at $329,000.

“You have a really great project with a nice mix of housing types,” said Steinbergs. “I would urge you to approve it.”

The Planning Commission had recommended denial of the changes to council with a 5-1 vote Feb. 9. City staff recommended approval to both the commission and the council

Members of the public and the Planning Commission said during a public hearing that the project would not offer low-income affordable housing, ignored efforts underway to update the comprehensive plan and other guiding documents that could create affordability, and didn’t meet current standards.

“This is putting the cart before the horse,” said Michelle Glass. The city should hold off until work now in progress on housing policy is completed. She wants to seek housing that will be affordable to the work force.

Variance standards on property setbacks were not met under current regulations, said Planning Commission member Joi Riley.

“The proposed development itself did meet the current standards,” said Planning Commission member Felicia Hazel, who cast the only vote for approval at the commission’s meeting.

After three earlier council votes to extend deliberations, the session ended when Mayor Darby Stricker and Councilor Daniel Wise left and the body lacked a quorum.

Suncrest Homes has built approximately 100 houses in Talent over 25 years. Hamilton said it will cost about $2.5 million to buy the land and put in infrastructure. He’s already invested $46,000 in getting the project to its current state.

— Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.