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Medford courts new downtown housing

Medford is poised to make a big push for more housing in the downtown area by working with developers, property owners and even setting aside city lots for projects.

"This is a battle on several fronts," Councilor Clay Bearnson said at a recent City Council study session. "Let's throw it at the wall and see what sticks."

An unnamed developer is interested in building a 50-unit complex on a city-owned parking lot on Central Avenue across from the library.

The property, which could be part of a pilot project, was previously considered for an elevated apartment complex known as SkyPark, but the developer and city couldn't come to agreement over the project.

"There is interest out there to do housing downtown," said Kelly Madding, deputy city manager.

The council is scheduled Aug. 3 to consider sending out a request for proposals for companies to explore ways to encourage housing in the downtown core. The goal is to approve a company by Dec. 7.

In the past, discussions have revolved around creating more housing on the second stories of many downtown businesses, but the buildings don't meet current earthquake requirements or have access for the disabled, such as elevators.

Today, there are several apartments in upstairs units above downtown stores.

There are several low-income housing units downtown, including The Concord, a new 50-unit, four-story apartment complex behind the Mail Tribune.

One of the goals of the proposed city-driven downtown housing project is to create 50 or more units downtown, including one large new construction project on city-owned land and another smaller renovation project.

To help propel the pilot projects, the city is considering forming a task force or steering committee.

The council, which has voiced support for the proposal, could consider streamlining planning processes and possibly easing some regulatory hurdles to encourage housing development. Bend has expedited land-use and building-permitting to encourage development.

One of the goals of the project would be to create more housing in Jackson County and to encourage residential development in the downtown.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.