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Ashland can't have it all

Affordable housing won't happen without changes in neighborhoods

Ashland can have affordable housing. It can have dense smart growth. It can have small-town charm and quaint neighborhoods full of single-family homes and few cars along its narrow streets.

It just can't have it all at once, something that should be growing more obvious by the day.

Consider this week's debate about a cohousing project planned on Fordyce Street. Proponents want to build 12 townhouses, a common house and 22 parking spaces on a 1.3-acre lot. Too crowded, neighbors say.

Or the recent debate before the Planning Commission about accessory dwellings, sometimes known as mother-in-law apartments. Hurts the neighborhood, neighbors say.

Or the much-debated proposal for a commercial/residential building behind the Ashland Springs Hotel, now awaiting action from the state Land Use Board of Appeals. Too big, opponents say.

Ashland is about a dozen years into serious discussion about how to increase affordable housing and encourage dense growth. How much longer must it go before residents acknowledge they can't have all the perks of a small town at the same time they have affordable housing and density?

— Their mostly unspoken message in meetings and at hearings: We live here, we like it here and we don't want our good deal screwed up.

On a lot of levels, that's tough logic to fault. Homes and neighborhoods are important, and no one wants to trade a good situation for a bad one.

But affordability and density aren't going to come in the form of new single-family homes on roomy lots. The land isn't there.

Instead, they're going to look a lot like the Fordyce proposal, like accessory dwellings tacked onto homes or like the project that would plop the large commercial/residential building into a space that barely contains it. And they can't all be in someone else's neighborhood.

The proposals coming before the city this year beg a question of Ashland beyond whether a specific project is right for a specific location.

It's this: Are affordability and smart growth approaches Ashland is going to be able to stomach?