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Council will take over urban renewal

Talent City Council in a 3-2 vote Wednesday directed staff to prepare an ordinance to take over authority for the Talent Urban Renewal Agency from the current nine-member board.

Council will vote on the ordinance June 17 following a public hearing. The action would be effective July 1 if approved.

“This council is fully capable of assuming the direction of TURA,” said Councilman Ryan Pederson, who voted for the motion with councilors Teresa Cooke and Anthony Abshire. E.J. McManus and Daniel Wise opposed the measure, both citing a loss of greater public input among their concerns.

A majority of nine speakers during public input said they favored shifting the responsibility to the council. Most speakers mentioned frustration that a planned third leg of a roundabout remains uncompleted and urged that it be accomplished as quickly as possible.

“We trust that you are willing to work hard for us on this project,” said Chamber of Commerce President Gretchen Hartrick, who expressed full confidence in city staff and City Manager Tom Corrigan’s ability to handle agency business.

TURA Executive Director Marla Cates later this year after two projects are completed. She has been director for 13 years.

The third leg would connect Wagner Street to the roundabout that joins West Valley View Road to an extension of Main Street completed last year. Pursuit of the third leg stopped when the agency followed a 2008 City Council directive that TURA prepare to end functions in 2016 rather than July 2019 as originally planned. Council rescinded that directive Wednesday evening.

“We were dispirited when the project of the roundabout stopped,” said Jim Schellentrager, who rides his bike in and out of the downtown area. The new route would go through property presently occupied by the Talent Irrigation District.

Private development consultant Mark Knox said he has been in discussions with TID, the city and an unidentified developer about purchase of the site, with provisions for the new route. He characterized TID as a good citizen member of the community, willing to listen and aware of the frustrations expressed.

“I believe it is going to happen,” said Knox. But he cautioned that land acquisition, relocation of TID’s operations and route construction will all take time.

Speakers voiced concerns that recruitment to replace Cates and finding new board members to replace three upcoming vacancies would all take time that could slow the roundabout completion. Most urged council to take on the responsibility and use city staff for support.

“Staff is all ready to get this done,” said Corrigan. He urged transfer sooner so that staff can work with Cates before her departure.

One citizen echoed concerns of Wise and McManus on potential loss of public input.

“I’ve always been in favor of there being more voices at the table,” said Andrew Mount. He’d like to see more local businesses develop in the roundabout area.

Pederson said that in his time as a council representative on the TURA board, there has been little public input at meetings compared to what he has seen at council sessions.

“This is where they come,” said Pederson, noting the council meets twice per month.

“This is not a contentious case of transferring authority,” said Mayor Darby Stricker. “We were additionally faced with the challenge of whether or not we wanted to rebuild the board and hire a new executive director.”

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.