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Downtown gets more housing

A new apartment building with more than 60 units could soon rise a block away from City Hall in downtown Medford.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency is working with local developer Laz Ayala on the new three-story building, which would feature a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.

MURA owns the property proposed for the project, a 20,000-square-foot, permit-only parking lot at the corner of South Holly Street and West Eighth Street.

An agreement is being worked out in which MURA would sell the property to Ayala for $235,000.

With the money from the sale, MURA would relocate utilities on the property and build sidewalks for the apartments.

“We’re basically using the value of the property to tee up this project,” said Harry Weiss, executive director of MURA.

This is also part of a long-range strategy by the city to attract more residential development in the downtown.

“We have a shortage of smaller housing types,” Weiss said. “What do we need more: places for people to live or places for people to park?”

Weiss said there will still be plenty of parking in the downtown area once the project is completed.

Sixteen parking spaces would be created on the back side of the apartment building. On-street permit parking would also be available. The existing parking lot has 45 spaces.

Weiss said there is a growing need for smaller apartments, particularly geared toward workforce housing.

“Sixty percent of all households in the United States are one- or two-person households,” he said.

The apartments would be located a couple of blocks from the bus transit hub.

The studio apartments would be about 375 to 415 square feet, the one-bedrooms, 500-600 square feet, and the two bedrooms would be 725-825 square feet.

Units that would be available for those with disabilities would be on the ground floor.

Weiss said the complex would not have elevators.

“Elevators are expensive to install, expensive to operate and expensive to maintain,” he said.

Construction is expected to begin this year on the project, Weiss said. “There’s still a lot of pieces to the puzzle.

Ayala, who has restored a number of downtown buildings over the past 20 years, said, “I’ve been a believer in the downtown since I’ve lived here.”

He said he hopes this project helps spur more interest in building housing in the downtown area by other developers.

He said the rental units should attract students, seniors and others who need a relatively affordable place to live.

He said the units will accomadate one to three-member households.

The project is expected to cost about $12 million, but construction costs have escalated and interest rates have increased since last year.

“The challenge is going to be to get our arms around this issue, the rising costs,” he said.

Last year, Ayala said his construction costs were $150 a square foot, but this year they’ve jumped to $225 a foot.

“It’s challenging,” he said. “We’re paying three times as much for lumber here as other areas of the country, and we produce the lumber in our state.”

The apartment complex is one of many housing efforts taking shape in or near the downtown. Plans are being developed to convert 123 rooms at the Inn at the Commons into apartments.

The America’s Best Value Inn is going to be converted from a 74-room motel into small apartments at 518 N. Riverside Ave. The Redwood Inn, at 722 N. Riverside Ave., is being converted into emergency housing for Almeda fire survivors and homeless people.

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