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School district fields explored for emergency housing

Phoenix-Talent School District land that includes ballfields off Colver Road adjacent to Talent is being considered as a location for FEMA trailers that would provide housing for residents displaced by the Almeda fire.

A virtual town hall session to present the idea was attended by more than 130 participants when it was held Jan. 29, said John Vial, Jackson County Emergency Operations Center director. He briefed Phoenix City Council last week on efforts to deal with the aftermath of the fire, which destroyed about 2,700 residences.

“This one with the school district — it appears to be a very viable product, very viable land to use. A good neighborhood, and great people around that area who are willing to work with us,” said Toney Raines, a FEMA officer who is heading the Oregon housing effort.

FEMA has looked at many sites over the last few weeks after over 300 were identified, said Raines. The school land is desirable because it meets all local building codes and site codes and is not in a slide zone or flood zone.

The Phoenix-Talent school board will likely consider a staff recommendation on use of the site at its Feb. 18 meeting, said Superintendent Brent Barry. One possibility is that the district would lease the land to FEMA and take it back at a later date.

If an agreement is reached with the district, approval for the project would then need to be granted by Jackson County, because the site is outside city limits.

After a permit application is received, Jackson County would take 30 days to perform a review. After that a decision would be issued in 35 to 40 days, said Shandell Clark, Jackson County planning manager. Notice would then be mailed to property owners within 750 feet of the site, which is south of Colver Road.

Housing could be on the site until March 2022. FEMA ceases to fund disaster assistance after 18 months from the major disaster declaration, which was issued Sept. 15. Families would have the option to buy the trailers from FEMA for relocation to other sites.

A proposed layout developed by FEMA shows manufactured homes located between ballfields to the west and homes to the east. A final step would be preparation of the site, which would need to have water, sewer and electrical services installed.

“For the most part it was received pretty well. There were some adjoining neighbors that had some concerns. Some of the neighbors said they liked looking at the vacant fields. That’s a hard one to mitigate. For some, screening was a big issue,” said Vial. FEMA indicated it could work on that by building better fences.

Location of FEMA trailers in manufactured home parks that were mostly destroyed by the fire was targeted initially as a first strategy to more quickly provide housing locations.

But Vial says the pad restoration option hasn’t gotten any easier. FEMA trailers in many cases are bigger than units they would replace, said Vial. Talent Mobile Estates would see spaces reduced from 80 to fewer than 50 to accommodate FEMA houses.

“When (the park owner) ran the numbers, he couldn’t economically run his park with fewer tenants. We are seeing that in other older parks as well,” said Vial. In addition, there would not be enough room to maneuver trailers into some older parks.

Talent Urban Renewal Agency is looking at the possibility of putting 53 trailers on its Gateway site at Highway 99 and West Valley View Road. People’s Bank of Commerce Foundation has awarded a $250,000 grant for work on that project once plans are approved, permits are secured and financing committed. Placement of FEMA trailers is not envisioned in the proposal.

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

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAlmeda Fire cleanup efforts at Bear Lake Estates Wednesday in Phoenix.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Almeda Fire cleanup efforts at Bear Lake Estates Wednesday in Phoenix.