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Apartment project approved by SPAC

A 16-unit residential project for Columbia Care Services at the southwest corner of Stewart and South Columbus Avenue was given unanimous approval Friday by the Medford Site Plan and Architectural Commission.

The hearing, continued from February, attracted a dozen people and reviewed concerns raised by neighboring property owners.

The housing project, to include a pair of two-story, multifamily apartment buildings on a 1.57 acre parcel will provide needed support housing for homeless and house-challenged veterans.

Nine existing residential units — seven houses and a duplex — are already managed on site by Columbia Care. Formerly Oregon Regional Behavioral Services, the nonprofit provides short- and long-term residential care, short-term crisis care, and long-term or transitional apartments and other types of mental health care, in addition to serving veterans.

Project coordinators emphasized Friday that the project is intended merely as housing. Residents, however, claimed they had voiced concerns that had gone unanswered.

Neighboring property owner Brooks Durham and his father, Chris Durham, said the project description had been listed in different ways during the process.

“I am not against mental health, veterans’ services or veterans’ housing. Unfortunately, transparency has not been given,” said Brooks Durham, who said he represented the 10-unit Yorktown Homeowner’s Association.

Durham said residents of the townhome complex had requested information from Columbia Care but had not received a thorough response.

Durham’s questions ranged from “specific details of what is being proposed and type of housing to job titles and descriptions of employees and contractors” for the project.

“Transparency is crucial to build trust and develop a healthy relationship between our neighborhood and this proposed project,” Durham said, noting that the project had been described as both transitional housing and permanent supportive housing.

“They can’t be both, as the two uses are much different in scope,” he said.

Clark Stevens, whose firm, Richard Stevens and Associates, represents Columbia Care Services for the project, said all building code criteria had been met and that the job of the commission was to review the project and not critique intended future tenants.

While the project developers could have simply called the project “apartments,” they had been transparent in disclosing the focus of serving veterans, Stevens said. The housing project would not provide mental health services but be a place to call home for veterans, “which are transitioning from vehicles, tents, streets into a permanent housing environment,” Stevens said.

Stevens said Columbia Care had responded to as many of Durham’s questions are possible without violating the Federal Fair Housing Act.

Durham was dissatisfied with Friday’s meeting and said neighbors were “confused more than before, after the two public hearings.”

“We still do not know the program details, staff duties, staff job descriptions and intended use,” he noted.

Chris Durham told the commission he supported veterans and was, himself, a veteran, but that project coordinators owed neighbors some answers.

“At the commission public hearing on Feb. 4, Richard Stevens ... testified that it was not a mental health facility. I accept that,” he said.

“But I still do not understand what transitional housing means.”

Stevens explained that the type of tenants are not a factor in approving or denying a residential construction project and that the community likely has countless veterans living in homes around the region who are not unlike those who will be served by the project.

“We simply could have come in to this project with identifying it as an apartment complex without even mentioning veterans as the intended users or residents of this site,” he said.

“The transition is from a homeless situation to a permanent housing situation. This gives them a hand up into society, to have a residence; have an address, have a phone number ... and be successful in society. To say there is no transparency, I will say that I object to that.”

Columbia Care representatives said project information would be listed on a project website in coming weeks at www.communitycares.info/??

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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