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Talent urban renewal looks at transitional housing

Transitional housing for residents who lost homes in the Almeda fire could be coming to a tract of land owned by the Talent Urban Renewal Agency. The site had been envisioned as a town gateway with a mix of development including housing.

TURA is performing due diligence on a proposal for property at West Valley View Road and Highway 99. A town hall session to inform the public will be held at the beginning of the year at a time and date to be announced.

“We are looking at some of the families that are kind of falling through the FEMA cracks and some of the elderly too,” said agency Executive Director Jon Legaraz. “Some of these kids are getting bused outside of town.”

Planning for the site’s transitional use and infrastructure is being performed with a $38,500 grant from the People’s Bank of Commerce Foundation. Following the fire bank employees raised $200,000 to assist fire victims, and the foundation voted to award a grant to Talent’s effort.

“It has been validating that People’s Bank granted us $38,500. It was so heartwarming that people from places outside of Talent see the vision and understand what our direction is and are really willing to support this,” said Darby Ayers-Flood, chair of the TURA board. “Restoring our families is going to be crucial for us and for our diversity. Diversity is what makes Talent unique.”

TURA and the Phoenix-Talent School District may collaborate to provide trailers and RVs for the site. The district has worked with Rogue Retreat to secure donated units that can be used to house residents displaced by the fire, said district Superintendent Brent Barry.

“We have gifted 19 trailers and have families that need 16. We know there are many more out there that have a need for housing,” said Barry. “The program is targeting families that have no other resources and did not qualify for FEMA assistance.”

The district and TURA have discussed an intergovernmental agreement. It would need approval from the boards of directors of both the district and the agency.

“It’s a pretty intriguing project. There is definitely a need,” said Barry. “First and foremost are families that don’t have any other resources to bring them back to their home school district.”

Board members paid attention at an online town hall meeting about the fire held Sept. 24, where citizens said they wanted to retain the character of the town by creating opportunities for burned-out residents to return, said Ayers-Flood. An estimated 700 residences in Talent were lost, many of them in manufactured home parks that provided affordable housing for Hispanic and elderly populations.

After the proposal is fleshed out and citizen input is received, the board would vote on whether to proceed with the project. The agency would look for grants to support the development and work with government and private agencies to further the effort.

According to preliminary site plans, 53 units would be in the transitional arrangement. There would also be open space and areas set aside for commercial or nonprofit development. A second phase in plans shows an 18-unit mini-apartment building adjacent to Highway 99. A third phase shows 24-unit apartment buildings on the site. The conceptual plans were created by Walker Macy landscape architects and Powell Engineering.

In 2017, the agency amassed the 4.3 acres of land on the southwest corner of Highway 99 and West Valley View Road for $1.875 million with the intent of developing a downtown entrance with a mix of commercial and nonprofit buildings, affordable and market-rate housing and open space.

An initial development attempt failed when the selected developer withdrew from negotiations in January 2019. A second attempt with a request for proposals last year drew only one response that was not accepted.

Transitional housing and development of the site are aligning on parallel paths, said Ayers-Flood. Transitional housing would be one way to get infrastructure installed on the site, including water, storm and sewer lines. A transition to permanent housing might take a couple years, said Ayers-Flood. That might include an RFP for apartments, which is likely a couple of years out.

The town hall will show a phased program. Permanent housing has always been a view of the board, said Ayers-Flood.

Talent resident Nancy Buono called for the agency to be transparent in all efforts to develop the site at the board’s Nov. 4 meeting where acceptance of the grant and continuance of due diligence was approved.

“We are headed in the right direction. It’s a pivot that has to happen, but we’ll have some permanent housing in the future,” said Ayers-Flood. “Looking long-term term there might be commercial mixed use at the end of the day. It’s still viable. It’s a great location for commercial in the future.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Much of Talent is left decimated by the Almeda Fire that tore through town in early September.Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch