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Planning Commission OKs cottage housing plan

A move to clear the way for more cottage-style housing in Ashland passed another hurdle Tuesday night before the city Planning Commission.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve houses of about 800 square feet either in clusters on larger lots or in tandem with existing larger homes. The idea is to create more affordable housing in Ashland.

Owner-occupied homes have dropped to half the occupied homes in the city, down from 52 percent in 2010 and 58 percent in 1970, according to Ashland’s Planning Department calculations.

The median home price has meanwhile jumped to $482,500, going up by 5.8 percent over the past year according to Zillow, which tracks prices. Rents have also continued to rise, with a median rent of $1,217 per month. The vacancy rate hovers at less than 2 percent.

“I agree in general with trying to get more affordable housing,” Ashland resident Colin Swales told commissioners. “Obviously this type of development could give the opportunity for people to live in their homes and have neighbors to look after them,” he said, while encouraging commissioners not to squeeze homes too close together.

The cottages could be arranged a variety of ways in the proposed ordinance by keeping existing houses and building around them, or by creating entirely new developments featuring one house at 1,000 square feet surrounded by smaller units of 800 square feet or less.

If the existing house were larger than 1,000 square feet, the additional size would not factor into the home owner's ability to build several smaller units, so long as they fit on the lot with green space, separation of six feet between houses and parking.

Ashland currently allows cottage-type homes as accessory dwelling units, or granny houses, on lots with an existing house, but until this proposal it had not specifically encouraged multiple units being built on larger lots or entire developments of near-tiny house proportions.

In voting for the proposal, commissioners agreed more workforce housing is needed in the city.

Estimates for the selling price of the cottages, according to city planners, would be roughly $240,000, which is roughly half the cost of a larger house in Ashland.

City Council is expected to vote on a first reading of the ordinance at its meeting Nov. 7.

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