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City opens door to housing

Downtown parking lots could transform into housing projects to spur construction of more residential units.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency is in negotiations with a developer to transform a 45-space parking lot at Eighth and Holly streets into a housing project of up to 50 units, similar in scale to the 50-unit Concord, a four-story apartment complex behind the Mail Tribune.

Another parking lot on Jackson Street could be converted into a 12-unit complex.

MURA is looking at other parking lots around the downtown that could become housing projects.

“That could become its own little residential neighborhood,” said Harry Weiss, executive director of MURA.

Weiss said he expects to make an announcement over the next two months about the Eighth and Holly lot project.

He said he’s been in conversations with various developers about building housing units in the downtown.

The city, faced with a crisis for housing that was exacerbated by the Almeda fire, is looking at different types of housing in various price ranges.

He said 60% of housing in the U.S. is for single people or couples, and there is a big need for studio and one-bedroom apartments.

Weiss has also looked at parking lots across the street from Rogue Community College on Central Avenue to see if there is a way to add housing while retaining the same amount of parking.

Previously a project known as Skypark was proposed at one of the parking lots but it ran into various hurdles that derailed it.

Another MURA property on Central in the Liberty Park neighborhood is being eyed for a 125-unit low-income housing project just north of Les Schwab Tire Center.

A developer is also getting ready to transform the Inn at the Commons into 123 studio apartments.

Another project would create a 110-unit extended stay Marriott hotel on Fourth Street, just north of Pear Blossom Park. This project would be some five-stories tall and be roughly the scale of the nearby Lithia headquarters.

While the city looks at using parking lots to add to the downtown housing inventory, Weiss said he’s also been looking at adding parking spaces where possible.

Along Central, 33 spaces were added when the roadway was changed from four lanes to three, he said. Another project along Central could net another 12 or more spaces.

“Goal 1 is to increase curbside parking,” he said.

In the core downtown area, developers can build higher density residential units than outlying areas. That’s one of the reasons why the Eighth and Holly streets parking lot is able to house more residential units than the 325 Jackson Street lot.

MURA bought the Jackson lot from Living Waters Church for $120,000.

Weiss said there might be discussions with the City Council, which is also the MURA board, about expanding the boundaries of the downtown core, which would open them up to higher-density projects.

Weiss said the city needs affordable to middle-income units.

“We need housing across the board,” he said.

Referring to the two parking lots, Weiss said, “We’d love these properties to be something for people in the middle-income range.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune{ }