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Talent looks to add housing It could take three to five years to pave the way on north-side properties

Talent City Council unanimously voted to begin the process for designating more land for residential construction two weeks after it turned down a similar request on a split vote over concerns about how to create more affordable housing.

The council decided March 21 to amend performance measures for two areas designated for future town growth in the 12-year Regional Problem Solving process. Those areas on the north side of town bordering Highway 99 had been designated for commercial and light industrial uses, but the town has a lack of land suitable for new houses.

Developer Laz Ayala, who owns one of the tracts, 22 acres west of Highway 99 and north of Colver Road, told the council that last year just three new houses were built in Talent, and so far none have been constructed this year due to a lack of land. Long-range studies show the town will need 1,272 new dwelling units by 2037.

The motion by Councilor Stephanie Dolan called for city staff to convene a study session with the Planning Commission and stakeholders to develop performance indicators that ensure development meets criteria in the adopted housing element of the comprehensive plan. Among those is creation of affordable housing.

“It’s a very good motion. I think it brings both sides together here in moving the process along and allows discussion to happen,” said Councilor Ken Baker.

Prior to council deliberation, several speakers urged that the council not miss an opportunity to create affordable housing. But others said conditions should not restrict what is a market-based business and might hinder home building in town by developers.

“I hear how shocked people are that affordable housing is so impossible to find here. The current situation is a crisis,” said Talent resident Rachel Parks, who works for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and said new hires at the festival struggle to find housing.

“I’m here to tell you, the council, it is your job to help fix this problem, not cater just to developers who are unwilling to commit to specifically providing affordable housing in their plans,” said Parks.

Talent’s Housing Needs Analysis adopted last year projected a deficiency of 103 acres in all residual land categories for growth through 2037. The report concluded Talent would need 64 new housing units per year to meet growth.

Change of the RPS designations will not be a speedy process. There will be public hearings and the amendments will be brought before both City Council and the Planning Commission. There will also be consultation with the state Department of Land Conservation and Development. An application would then be made to Jackson County, which will also hold public hearings before the county Board of Commissioners would vote on the changes. DLCD then must acknowledge the amendment.

All that would take place before the property could be brought into the city’s urban growth boundary and later into city limits for development. Ayala estimated it would take three to five years to work through the process that would allow creation of a subdivision on his land.

At a March 7 session, councilors discussed limiting houses to a maximum of 1,300 square feet of living space as a way to restrain prices by building smaller, more affordable units. Discussion also looked at having 50 percent of houses on the sites cost less than the median new house sale figure in Talent.

In 2013 the median home sales price in Talent was $178,000 but rose to $282,000 in 2017. The median price for new houses was $255,000 in 2013 when nine units were built and $339,000 in 2017 for three houses.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.