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State raps Ashland annexation

A mock-up design of what one of the 14 buildings in a 250-unit housing development off Highway 99 would look like.

Ashland’s attempt to annex 17 acres for a proposed apartment complex was rejected recently by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

“The decision we made is incorrect,” said Bill Molnar, city planner, at a May 25 Planning Commission meeting.

The city approved the annexation, which would have paved the way for construction of 14 two-story apartment buildings totaling 196 units.

Rogue Advocates, a local organization whose goal is to preserve rural lands and create better planned urban centers, filed an appeal with LUBA, and the state agency found the city didn’t follow its own municipal code in approving the appeal.

The property, owned by Kendrick Enterprises LLC and Casita Developments, is located at 1511 Highway 99 just south of Valley View Road and next to the railroad tracks in the northwest corner of town.

LUBA on May 12 found the apartment concept included a proposal to have sidewalks that did not meet the city’s current standards, a requirement under the city’s municipal code. However, Ashland City Council approved an exception to its standards that would have allowed the sidewalks to abut the curb next to the street without a planter strip.

The “exception” is the central issue in the appeal, according to LUBA.

In reversing the annexation, LUBA determined a new annexation would have to be submitted or significant changes would have to be made to the existing application.

Molnar said LUBA’s decision could affect future efforts to annex other properties until inconsistencies in the city code can be ironed out.

Rogue Advocates also said the city needed to look at a signalized crosswalk to provide a safe means for pedestrians to cross.

LUBA didn’t rule on other issues with the proposal cited by Rogue Advocates, such as the impact on Highway 99 from the estimated 1,800 added vehicle trips a day from the project.

“The 17 acres has location problems, traffic issues,” said Jimmy MacLeod with Rogue Advocates.

He said there needs to be adequate pedestrian separation from Highway 99, where vehicles are traveling 45 mph.

Ashland City Council and the Planning Commission needed to address this concern before accepting the project, which would offer some affordable housing.

“I see them as between a rock and a hard place,” MacLeod said of the council and Planning Commission. “Everybody’s in freak-out mode, and they want affordable housing.”

MacLeod said the city should look to other possible solutions to ensure pedestrian safety rather than agreeing to get rid of the planter strip buffer.

He said it’s problematic to provide an exception to the requirement to have separation between a sidewalk and a highway before a property is annexed into a city.

He said the city could possibly approach the Oregon Department of Transportation about reducing the speed along Highway 99 in this section to 35 mph from the current 45 mph.

“Slow this section of road down,” he said. The project needs to create a safe environment for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, he said.

While there would be some affordable housing in the proposed project, MacLeod said, “Championing it as this affordable housing situation is stretching the truth a bit. We’re all for that, but not to sacrifice people’s safety.”

He suggested Ashland rethink the project to make it safe and to avoid ignoring its own municipal code.

MacLeod said Ashland needs more affordable housing, but developers make more money from high-end housing. As a result, he said, the city likely needs to make more concessions to achieve the goal of more affordable housing, but not by sacrificing minimum public safety standards.

MacLeod said the region for too long has subsidized unsustainable growth.

“However, unless the public demands it, our public servants will follow the path of least resistance and continue to kick this can down the road,” he said.

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