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Council Corner: Reflections from under the bus

In my five-plus years on the council, the last couple councils have been really good and this has been one of the best, serving the citizens of Ashland. Some trying times for sure, but we work very hard to resolve issues and get things done in a manner as fair as can be for all involved.

So when I hear the words “tyrannical, groupthink and rubber-stamping,” (as one of our members recently referred to us), I get a little defensive. This is an exceptional group of people working for you. But this is the campaign season and we do have a very interesting major party presidential candidate, so maybe this is not just the “goofy season” as a previous city administrator calls it, but a season where accusations fly. So let's take a look at a couple of those accusations.

The Normal Neighborhood plan

The accusation that the council consistently supported the developers and put the taxpayers at risk for the surrounding infrastructure improvements? The land is currently in the county but within the Ashland Urban Growth Boundary and is slated for medium density development when annexed under Ashland’s Comprehensive Plan. Several years ago, a couple of the property owners came forward with a plan to develop to this density. It was decided a master plan for the entire area would be the best way to proceed. This process would guarantee input by the neighbors and all those affected and allow for a more coordinated build-out instead of parcel-by-parcel development with little connection to the next. When all was said and done, after a dozen or so meetings with the property owners, neighbors, staff, Planning Commission, a separate ad hoc and finally the council, a final plan was agreed upon and I will guarantee you no one came away with all they wanted.

Some of the results of that plan are as follows: A significant reduction in the total number of units that can be built, the development pays for all internal infrastructure, approximately 30 percent of the land is now designated open space and cannot be built on, 25 percent of all units built will have to be under the city’s affordable housing program, an improved railroad crossing at Normal Street will be built, as well as half street improvements to East Main, which is a county road and much of it outside of the area to be developed.

The plan also allows nontraditional neighborhood forms to be built. Much of this was due to citizen comments. The financial risk for the city taxpayers that was stated, exists only if the property owners and city partner in the financing of the long-term offsite improvements. This would be paid back as future homes are built. If some of the homes never get built, the improvement happens but that share of the outstanding balance needs to be dealt with. But again, only if the city partners in financing the improvements.

City commissions and ad-hoc committees

The accusation that Ashland’s “ad hoc committees and city commissions are mostly staffed by advocates of the Chamber and those with downtown points of view at the expense of those with neighborhood concerns” is just plain nonsense. I am sure there are Chamber and downtown advocates on commissions. After all we have tree advocates, bike advocates. airport advocates, homeless services advocates, historic advocates, just to name a few, on our commissions.

This mayor and council have more commissioners from different points of view than one can keep track of but they all have one thing in common. The citizens that devote their time to those commissions all have the best interests of Ashland in mind as they work together toward solutions to some very complex problems. To say anything less of these volunteers and or say they mostly represent a different interest, I cannot believe and I find very disrespectful. The rest of us on the council really do appreciate all their hard work.

Apparently, these accusations leveled at the council are not totally based in fact, just half-empty allegations intended for some other purpose. Or maybe just sarcasm. A term we have all heard much of lately.

Michael Morris is a member of the Ashland City Council.