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Commission OKs temporary lodging request

The Ashland Planning Commission will allow a developer to turn four condo-style apartments into temporary-stay executive apartments on Russell Street.

Despite concerns about the limited number of permanent apartments and condos, commissioners agreed last week that the request is within the city's code and the rules of the neighborhood.

“It’s beneficial in that it’s less like a motel and more like an apartment,” said planning Commissioner Lynn Thompson. "It’s nice if it benefits the neighbors, but it’s zoned for commercial. Under the code, we’re required to grant approval."

Deborah Miller, the lone commissioner who voted against the plan, said it runs counter to what the city of Ashland needs to address.

“It doesn’t build community, and taking four units out of housing that we so need is not a good idea,” she said.

The conversion at 274 Russell St. would allow four apartments to become temporary rentals for businesses to offer to consultants, temporary workers and those traveling through on business. While approval allows the units to be used for as short a time as needed, the developer, Mark Knox, assured planners that’s not the idea.

“It’s not intended to be a hotel or motel. It's for weeks or months for professional, short-term housing,” said Knox. “We fit within and under the target use.”

One neighbor attended the meeting to urge the commission not to approve the plan.

“This is taking housing off the market," said Dave Helmich. "That’s not right. It’s against city policy. You’re providing an Airbnb in perpetuity. We want more community. This does not build that.”

While commissioners were sympathetic to the concerns, most agreed that the units were within the rules for the commercially zoned area and met the criteria for approval.

“It’s an interesting project. It’s already basically in our code,” said Commissioner Michael Dawkins.

Questions were raised about preventing the current owners from selling it to someone who may want to turn it into a nightly motel or put up large signs, but the developer assured the commission that was not in the plan, and Planning Director Bill Molnar informed the commissioners that a sign could not be put in the neighborhood without going through approval first.

“This adds to housing stock in a sense, and because it fits code, I’m in favor,” Dawkins said, adding that existing apartments may be rented in this way now even though they sit vacant at times through the year.

Haywood Norton gave a reluctant yes vote to the plan, he said, because it did fit the code.

“I’ve talked to residents who have no place to go. Here’s four units being taken out of the pool. Somewhere we have to draw the line,” said Norton. “Even taking four units out doesn’t work to solve Ashland’s housing crisis.”

Meantime, the Planning Commission will grapple with affordable housing again Tuesday, March 28, when it considers a Rogue Credit Union request for a new bank branch at 1651 Ashland St. and permission to subdivide the property to create affordable housing units there, as well. While credit union officials did not have firm plans, they said they were engaged in a partnership to create up to 34 units.

The commission denied the request Jan. 10, noting that, according to city requirements, a building must take up half the size of the property, which the new branch would not.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

Four condo-type apartments on Russell Street will be converted to temporary-stay executive apartments. [Submitted graphic]