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Proposed subdivision faces scrutiny

The number of affordable housing units that would be available — and under what terms — were a sticking point Tuesday when Ashland City Council considered a request to change the zoning on property at 475 E. Nevada St. from single family to multifamily.

After a lengthy discussion, the council continued the topic to April 17.

The applicants are proposing a 20-lot, 23-unit project called the Katherine Mae Subdivision on 2.4 acres. They asked the city to change the zoning to allow 12 dwelling units per acre instead of 1.2.

The application faced scrutiny because it requested a number of exceptions on affordable housing requirements that weren’t previously reviewed by the Planning Commission.

The added exceptions — reducing the affordability deed restriction from 60 years to 30 years, not capping a maximum purchase price, and freeing the applicant from responsibilities and requirements once it handed the land off to a developer — were requested because its preferred affordable housing developer, Habitat for Humanity, doesn’t comply with Ashland’s ordinance on affordable housing, according to the applicant.

“We try to be proactive by getting an affordable developer early in the process,” said Amy Gunter, the project consultant. “But if an internationally renowned developer doesn’t comply with the city’s code, that’s a problem.”

She said the applicant has been in conversations with other developers but have made little progress while a zone change is pending.

The Ashland Planning Commission gave the application its preliminary approval in January, after adding a stipulation that the four low-income units proposed would be ready for occupancy before 50 percent of the market-rate subdivision is completed.

Under the city’s current comprehensive plan and zoning, the property in the North Mountain neighborhood could accommodate three single-family units.

The comprehensive plan amendment and zone change would make way for a 20-unit development with three additional “accessory residential units.” The legislative change would also prompt a requirement for at least four affordable housing units.

The city would include its adjacent 0.35-acre lot in the proposed rezoning. Staff said the city has no plans for the parcel and it could be used for affordable housing.

The applicant said Habitat discovered the conflicts between its policies and Ashland’s ordinance after the Planning Commission’s approval.

The council directed staff to continue working with the applicant on the affordable housing requirement.

Councilor Mike Morris said staff should “negotiate” for more affordable units at the site.

“There are lots of exceptions for this proposal,” Morris said Tuesday. “In lieu of a legislative change … we should ask for more affordable housing units.”

Staff recommended the council approve the proposal Tuesday night, saying it would provide more housing options in the midst of a housing crisis in Ashland.

Director of Community Development Bill Molnar had some concerns about exceptions for the affordable housing requirement, but he said the staff supports other exceptions, such as eliminating a requirement for a sidewalk on East Nevada and allowing affordable housing in a cluster rather than distributed throughout the development.

He suggested the council make it mandatory for the applicant to build three “accessory residential units” that could serve as additional rentals.

“We need more units in general,” Molnar said. “There should be more consideration for housing to buy and to rent here.”

Gunter said it’s “harder to get lending for two-unit houses,” and the additional units could impact the availability of parking spots. The property is also limited in space due to a number of slopes on site, she said.

Three residents spoke at the meeting, include Karen Logan, who called herself “an accidental affordable housing advocate.”

“The applicant’s affordable housing argument is extremely weak … and vague,” she said, adding that the request for exceptions for Habitat, which only builds units for sale, not rent, is unrealistic. “Workforce housing is not for-purchase housing,” she said.

Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.