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Trees to make way for apartments

A 15-unit apartment complex offering much-needed rental space in Ashland proposed for a mostly vacant lot on Siskiyou Boulevard at Park Street seemed like a winner at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting, until a dozen neighbors bashed the “dorm style” plan, saying that 60 potential adult tenants would greatly increase traffic and noise, degrading quality of life in their quiet, mostly single-family residential neighborhood.

While neighbors lauded the goal of increasing apartments in town, their objections on density caused a decision to be delayed a month to allow for a week of written comments, followed by applicant’s response.

The six-building Park Square Apartments project, with three three-story and three two-story structures, plus a laundry facility, is proposed by Tudor Properties and designed by Kistler, Small + White Architects of Ashland. Each floor would be its own unit, each with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a common kitchen, similar to roommates in college dorms at Southern Oregon University, about three-quarter miles to the north. Units could be rented as a whole, or as individual bedrooms.

The .74-acre spot is zoned R-3, high-density residential. The three-story buildings would have two floors above ground with the third as a mostly-underground basement but with windows at top. The design includes has an open recreation area in the middle. The parking lot would have 30 spaces.

Two mature redwoods would be among five of the sites seven trees to be removed to make way for the project, which has been OK’d by the city Tree Commission. One of the redwoods is a cluster with five trunks with diameters about 5 feet off the ground ranging from 8 to 14 inches in diameter; a larger redwood nearby is 35 inches in diameter at breast height.

The only current structure on the property, an 895-square-foot shop, would be demolished.

Applicant representative Matt Small reminded commissioners that rental housing is in very short supply and the city hasn’t seen a new complex of this size in almost 20 years, so it’s “incumbent” on the city to maximize density and approve it, he said.

Neighbor Janet Robbins-Turk said the density and height of the apartments “don’t fit on our street because we’ve got single-family units. I support more housing but this will have a negative impact, increase traffic and parking, lowering aesthetic and visual qualities and affecting property values.”

She said, since there’s no parking on Siskiyou, people will park on Park Street, increasing congestion and raising significant safety concerns at a busy, angled intersection that has no traffic light and that’s already challenging in rush hours.

Her husband, Tim Turk, urged a traffic study and cut in density, noting the structure would cost them cherished views of surrounding hills.

Neighbor Jared Cruce said, “These aren’t really apartments. They’re dorms. The intent is to maximize capacity The addition of two or four units isn’t going to solve our housing crisis, but will create safety and congestion issues This is planned on a forgotten intersection on a forgotten street. All other apartments on Siskiyou have egress into the boulevard, but not this one. I request further investigation on how this can fit in the neighborhood.”

Neighbor Ken Morrish called lower Park Street a “hot mess,” as people coming from popular trails atop the steep street often get up to 50 mph. Driving his kids to school, he has often waited five to eight minutes just to turn left onto Siskiyou and with potentially 60 new cars it will be even more “unsafe, slow and tough.”

Neighbor Craig Briand, a former planning commissioner in another city, said Ashland’s planning documents do not call for this kind of density. “It was not made for 60 students. It should be reduced from three to two stories. You could save the redwoods and make 15 units of two- and three-bedrooms, a lot below 60 bedrooms.”

In his rebuttal, White said traffic problems are already there and it’s “not incumbent” on him to correct them. He said they already planned structures to be 9.5 feet lower than allowed.

Due to the number of people who showed up to testify and the issues they raised, Commissioner Haywood Norton moved to continue the discussion to the next meeting, but the motion failed to attract a second.

Additional written comments can be submitted through next Wednesday, Sept. 18, to planning@ashland.or.us with responses by the applicant allowed for a week after that, then a commission decision at the Oct. 9 meeting, but no more public comment at that time.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

(Sept. 13: Error in the name of who made the rebuttal corrected.)

Daily Tidings / Bert EtlingA 15-unit, 60-bedroom apartment building is proposed for a corner lot bordered by Park Street, at right, and Siskiyou Boulevard, out of the picture frame to the left.
Daily Tidings / Bert EtlingA pair of redwood trees would be removed from a three-quarter acre lot along Siskiyou Boulevard to make way for a 15-unit apartment complex with 60 bedrooms. An existing apartment complex on a neighboring lot is visible at right.