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3D housing project hits roadblock

City of Medford and developer attempt to find compromise
A rendering shows the layout of part of a subdivion of 3D printed houses proposed for Almeda fire survivors in west Medford. [Artwork from newspiritvillage.org]

A $20 million affordable housing project built with 3D printing technology for Almeda fire survivors has hit a roadblock over a street.

Medford city planners have recommended to the Planning Commission that the 84-unit project be denied mostly because the developer doesn’t want to extend Vick Lane in west Medford.

Barry Thalden, president of New Spirit Village Inc., has called the extension of Vick Lane “a road to nowhere.”

City planners say New Spirit needs Vick Lane to allow residents to evacuate quickly and for emergency crews to enter and exit safely.

New Spirit would offer fire survivors a two-bedroom house that would cost an estimated $185,000 and require no money down, with mortgage payments under $1,000 a month.

According to Zillow, the average home price in Medford is $416,267.

New Spirit Village would be on a 6-acre site on Meadows Lane, south of West Main Street.

The project would include one-, two- and three-bedroom single-family homes, designed to be energy-efficient, fire-resistant and able to withstand extreme weather and earthquakes.

The 3D-printed walls are formed by robotic technology that squeezes out a cement mixture from a nozzle, creating walls that look something like a layer cake.

The city offered to consider building the Vick Lane extension on city park property, but planning staff indicated Thalden rejected the idea because it would reduce the amount of land in the park.

In 2008, a previous proposal to develop the property included extending Vick Lane.

The Medford Planning Department and the developer are attempting to find a compromise over Vick Lane, and the issue has been continued from this week to the July 14 Planning Commission meeting.

“I’d like to think there is a way to figure this out and make it work,” said Matt Brinkley, Medford planning director.

He said the current proposal provides inadequate access for emergency vehicles and a choke point to evacuate residents.

A planning analysis of the project concluded: “An important lesson learned from the Almeda fire is the value of evacuation routes. It’s just as important to get people out as it is to get emergency responders in.”

Vick Lane is destined to be a north/south street that will eventually connect West Main Street and Stewart Avenue. Currently Vick is only a short road.

The New Spirit project has been designed to look out onto Lewis Park to the east. If Vick Lane were extended, it would become a divider between the park and New Spirit.

Access into New Spirit would be a private road off Meadows Lane.

Brinkley said the city wants to make sure there is connectivity between streets as developments occur that push more traffic onto roads.

“There is good connectivity throughout west Medford, and we want to keep it that way,” he said.

Even if the houses are fire resistant, emergency crews still would need to evacuate people from New Spirit if another Almeda fire erupted, said Brinkley.

Thalden has proposed building wide walkways through the park that could provide fire vehicle access.

The Thalden Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation, established and directed by Kathryn and Barry Thalden. New Spirit Village is a sister nonprofit foundation.

Thalden said he’d be working with United Way and ACCESS to determine eligibility for the houses for fire survivors.

“We’d like to be delivering houses this winter,” he said. “We can print all the walls of the house in three days.”

A number of local organizations, including United Way and ACCESS, have written letters in support of New Spirit.

Thalden said at least one meeting will be held with planning staff before the July 14 meeting to determine a path forward.

“My belief is when smart people come together for a goal, they will find a solution,” he said.

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