'This wasn't a bait-and-switch'
The Medford City Council on Thursday approved an expanded homeless campground with so-called "wooden tents" despite strong concerns about the project's expanded footprint.
"It has morphed into more than I thought it would be," Mayor Gary Wheeler said. "It's a little bit of bait-and-switch."
Wheeler, who only casts a vote in case of a tie but also has veto power, was joined by councilors Tim Jackle and Kim Wallan in opposing the expanded project. The council voted 6-2 for Hope Village, which started at about a half acre but has grown to 1.61 acres.
Last year, the council agreed to lease a city lot for a year for a collection of 14 tiny houses and other facilities, on a city lot at the corner of West McAndrews Road and Columbus Avenue as part of a one-year pilot project. But the project was delayed, partially because of weather.
In January, Rogue Retreat, which is spearheading the project, announced it was working on leasing three other lots, including one where a building is being converted into offices and a welcome center.
Under state law, the project is considered an urban campground. The 8-foot by 10-foot houses are considered "wooden tents" and are not subject to the same requirements as a regular house, so they have no plumbing or electricity.
Heather Hassett, operations director for Rogue Retreat, said, "One thing we would like to express to the mayor and City Council is this wasn't a bait-and-switch per se for the additional land."
She said her organization has been working with city staff on the changes made to the project. Hassett said she just found out recently that the agreement with the city for the property would have to come back to the council to be amended.
She said the expanded footprint allowed service buildings to get city water, sewer and electricity, though they won't be available at the tiny houses.
Councilor Clay Bearnson said he'd heard a lot of fear about the project, but he said Hope Village is worthwhile and would benefit the community.
"I'm in favor of love and compassion," he said.
Karen Williams, a homeless woman who plans to move into one of the tiny houses, began crying when describing her excitement.
"These are happy tears and nervous tears," she said. "I can't wait for the day when I walk through the door and call it my home."
But Cindy Glover, a neighboring property owner, said she thought the project would bring down property values in the area, create loitering issues and could pose problems for a nearby park.
"I don't believe this project is good for the community," she said.
Councilor Mike Zarosinski said he supported the project but had concerns about straying too far from city regulations to make it work. He said he thought it appropriate to only delay the paving of a parking area for a year. Typically, parking areas must be paved and landscaped.
Councilor Tim Jackle said he had a problem with the city allowing the expansion of Hope Village onto a total of four parcels. He said the state law allowing urban campgrounds only allows them to be placed on two parcels in a city, though the law isn't clear on the subject.
"They are doing this at their risk," he said.