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Local editorial

Housing plan is worth a look

There are strong arguments against it, but will there be another chance?

The proponents of a plan for a massive affordable housing development in the Rogue Valley make an argument that is hard to refute: If not here, where? If not now, when?

We agree that it's unlikely the city of Medford ' or the valley, for that matter ' will see an affordable housing proposal of this magnitude ever again. For that reason alone, it's important that city officials fully weigh the option on its own merits.

The proposal, called the North-East Plan, would create a privately funded development of more than 1,300 single-family homes and condominiums on 400 acres between Medford and White City, just off Highway 62. The development, which as proposed would be annexed into the city, would include parks, bike paths, open space and an elementary school.

But the real hook is the price of the houses and condos, estimated to run between &

36;155,000 and &

36;212,000. This is not housing intended for low-income families, but it would meet an enormous demand for working, middle-income families that have effectively been shut out of the dream of home ownership in the Rogue Valley.

The upward spiral of housing costs in the valley is well-documented. In 2004, the median price of a new home in Jackson County was &

36;225,000, a 21.6 percent increase over 2003. In Medford, the median price of all homes sold in 2004 was &

36;240,000. In Ashland ... well, let's just say if you have to ask you can't afford it.

The North-East Plan would address the spiral and help hold it in check. The homes would be required to be owner-occupied and couldn't, except in emergencies, be sold for three years after purchase, with both steps intended to stave off the investor-buyer. The number of homes in the development also would serve to hold prices down because new homes would regularly be put up for sale as they are constructed.

— So, what's the catch? Well, there are any number of them that make this project a long shot in the eyes of planners. Chief among them is that the city of Medford has already identified where it plans to grow, and the proposed property is not inside the boundary. The growth area, developed in concert with a regional growth plan, was intended to identify enough land to allow for a doubling of the city's population and is estimated to provide a 50-year supply.

The property, currently zoned for exclusive farm use, is identified in the regional plan as a buffer area intended to create open space between Medford and White City. Traffic is another concern, with Highway 62 already stressed beyond reasonable limits.

The developers have counter-points worth considering: The buffer idea is illusionary, given the development that already exists between Medford and White City. Plans are already on the boards for improving traffic on Highway 62. The property is marginal farm land in an arid area of the county, dominated by black sticky clay soil, and generally not well suited for either farming or livestock grazing.

Will those arguments be enough to change the minds of planners and city officials? Given what we've heard, we doubt it. But that doesn't mean the idea should be dismissed, because it is indeed an idea that is not likely to come this way again soon.

At a minimum, city officials should ask planners ' and themselves ' what they will do to create affordable housing if plans like these are deemed unworkable. Is there any realistic plan to create affordable housing, or will the concept continue to be a good intention that never moves beyond the vision statements of cities in this valley?

If those questions are asked and answered, this proposal will have accomplished part of its goal even if it is never built.