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Our View: Growing up is inevitable

The City Council appears poised to allow taller buildings downtown — a move that is both smart planning for the future and an inevitable consequence of the city's policy against expanding its boundaries.

A major revision of the city's land-use ordinance will go to the council for a vote in its meeting next Tuesday. Among other changes, the new ordinance would allow commercial buildings up to 55 feet in height, up from the current limit of 40 feet or three stories in commercial zones.

Councilor Carol Voisin was the sole no vote on the ordinance's first reading Dec. 2. Voisin said her primary concern was that the move would change the look of downtown and destroy the city's small-town feel.

Councilor Greg Lemhouse correctly pointed out that the height change is an inevitable result of the city's strong infill policy. City leaders have long resisted pressure to allow Ashland to grow outward, forcing new development within the existing boundaries. If the city wants a healthy, growing business sector, it needs to allow existing businesses to expand and new businesses to locate here. Building up rather than out is one way to do that.

The infill policy also has helped drive housing prices out of reach of even middle-income residents. The median sale price of Ashland houses from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30 was $377,000. The countywide median was $205,000.

Four-story buildings aren't likely to make Ashland look like a big city. But the lack of affordable houses continues to make it look like an exclusive enclave for the wealthy.