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Affordable housing effort shifts into high gear

Affordable housing crisis: Ashland move aimed at increasing housing stock.

A local company is on track to build a flagship low-income housing project in the Liberty Park neighborhood north of downtown Medford.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency Board gave the green light to begin negotiations to develop a contract for the project last Tuesday with Rubicon Investments, which got a slight edge over Standard Communities, which has primarily worked on the East Coast.

Rubicon Investments of Medford has formed a partnership with Portland-based Edlen and Company for the project. Daniel Bunn, a former Medford City Council member, is president and CEO for Rubicon, which has built many large projects throughout Oregon.

The up to 125-unit project would be built just north of Les Schwab on Central Avenue. In 2019, the Medford Urban Renewal Agency bought a warehouse and the surrounding 3.25 acres for $1.75 million.

The Liberty Park neighborhood, just north of downtown Medford, is in the midst of an ongoing redevelopment effort to upgrade this low-income area of the city.

The MURA Board, made up of city councilors, found both the Rubicon and Standard proposals of almost equal merit, and there was much debate about which group was better qualified.

“I think it’s going to be a minor reason as to who we go forward with,” said Eric Stark, MURA Board chair.

Stark said he gave the edge to Rubicon, partly because of the company’s ability to handle local engagement for the project

“Their local presence allows them to hit the ground running faster,” he said. “I tip toward Rubicon on the local level.”

Two councilors, Sarah Spansail and Michael Zarosinski, recused themselves because of conflicts of interest.

Only four MURA Board members discussed entering into discussions with Rubicon. Eight councilors and the mayor normally comprise the MURA Board.

“We’ve got a minimal amount of the board making an important decision here,” said board member Kevin Stine.

He said he favored Standard Communities over Rubicon and found it has a long list of projects in its portfolio.

“It appears that Standard has a far bigger capacity to get stuff done,” Stine said.

But he concluded that they were both “stellar” companies.

Board member Randy Sparacino said he liked Rubicon’s management structure, which included representatives from Pence Construction, which is involved in Rogue Credit Union Community Complex.

“I am kind of leaning toward Rubicon because I like the local flavor,” said Sparacino.

At one point during the meeting, Sparacino offered to recuse himself from taking a position on the selection because he received a campaign contribution from Bunn.

Board member Clay Bearnson alerted the council that there might be the perception that Rubicon has some kind of influence over the city, pointing out that Bunn has donated to local campaigns.

“I’m not thrilled with those optics,” he said.

But, he said, both companies appeared to be qualified.

Despite the optics, Bearnson said he thought Bunn is a “stand-up guy.”

Ultimately, Bearnson said he supported Rubicon, and Sparacino decided against recusing himself.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.