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Ashland council stands by housing project

Ashland City Council unanimously denied an appeal for the second phase of the Snowberry Brook Apartments, which means the proposed 60-unit multifamily affordable housing development will move forward unless appealed at the state level.

The site design proposed along Villard and Engle streets was approved by the Ashland Planning Commission July 23 but was appealed by Ashland resident Russel Dale.

He claimed that the Planning Commission erred in approving the development because it did not require a locked gate restricting access to McCall Drive as requested by neighbors, and because it approved the applicant’s parking management strategy. The applicant is the Housing Authority of Jackson County.

McCall Drive Condominium neighbors to the south of the current Snowberry Brook apartments, at 2261 Villard St., raised concerns about vehicle and pedestrian conflicts.

In response, the Housing Authority proposed a locked gate accessible to emergency vehicles only by key to block the McCall Drive alley.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Dale said kids ride their bikes through the alley yelling obscenities in the middle of the night, and there’s been a string of thefts and vandalism in the area. He said the noise reverberates off the building and disturbs neighbors.

“The current affordable housing units are a nightmare, and now you want to build 60 more units,” Dale said. “All we’re asking for is a locked gate. We need to stop the pedestrian traffic through the alley.”

The Planning Commission approved the site design without the gate requirement, because the city owns the right of way and it determined it was not in their jurisdiction to place a requirement on the applicant for property outside of its ownership.

The commission said the applicant would have to go through an application process with the city’s Public Works Department to sort that out.

At the appeal, the council could vote only on whether the Planning Commission had erred in its decisions, and because the drive is owned by the city, the council found that to be an appropriate decision.

Dale also argued that the commission erred in approving the applicant’s parking management strategy. That issue was not raised in the record, so staff recommended to council that it not be considered grounds for appeal, and council agreed.

In addition, staff said the parking strategy was appropriate and met code. For the 60 proposed units, the city code requires 105 parking spaces. HAJC said it plans to provide 86 surface spaces and use available street parking for the remainder of the 19 spaces along the frontage of the property, plus provide 90 bike parking spaces.

Councilor Julie Akins asked Dale whether he had any resounding proof of the alleged thefts and vandalisms via police records or similar documents.

Dale said he owns about 250 units in the surrounding area and has had applicants lose interest in the area once learning that more affordable housing is being built.

“What it comes down to is the McCall Condo folks don’t want ‘those people’ in the project,” said HAJC’s attorney Sydnee Dreyer. “He (Dale) will continue the appeal process until the housing authority loses their funding for their project. This appellant has been clear about his bad faith appeal. I think it is important to make note of what the open motivations have been for this appeal.”

The project is planned for two tax lots and would consist of four two-story eight-plex apartment buildings and seven two-story townhouse four-plexes. Units include 10 one-bedroom flats, 12 two-bedroom flats, 10 three-bedroom flats and 28 two-bedroom townhomes.

The city, the Parks and Recreation Department and HAJC partnered to purchase the lots to build the apartments.

Ryan Haynes, HAJC director of real estate development, said at a previous Planning Commission meeting that the wait list to get into the existing Snowberry Brook apartments is about four years long.

The second phase would provide some needed affordable housing for Ashland, where 44% of Ashland residents are rent-burdened, which means they spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing. Another 35% of residents are severely rent-burdened, spending more than half of their gross income on housing, according to the city’s comprehensive plan.

According to Community Development Director Bill Molnar, the council’s final decision can be appealed to the State Land Use Board of Appeals within 21 days.

If not appealed, HAJC can finalize its construction plans and submit an application for building permits.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.