ashland.news
June 21, 2024

Ashland Planning Commission approves Grand Terrace development for the third time

Architectural plans for Grand Terrace, a proposed 230-unit apartment complex along Highway 99, outside current Ashland city limits. Image by Kendrick Enterprise LLC
August 16, 2023

Project north of town would be annexed into city limits; plan due to return to commission on Sept. 12 for vote on recommendation to City Council

By Craig Breon for Ashland.news

The Ashland Planning Commission approved on Aug. 8, for the third time, plans for the 230-unit Grand Terrace apartment complex on the north end of town. Two previous approvals by the Commission and City Council have been overturned by Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), after being contested by Rogue Advocates, a local nonprofit that describes itself as a “grassroots land-use monitoring group” working in Jackson and Josephine counties.

Planning commissioners and City Council members have for years made it clear that Grand Terrace represents an important step forward in addressing Ashland’s pressing need for housing. In particular, the developer, Casitas Development LLC, will provide 38 units of dedicated affordable housing. Even the market rate units might be relatively affordable, given that they are less than 500 square feet.

Rogue Advocates has repeatedly raised concerns about bicycle, pedestrian, and transit access to the site, as well as parking requirements, traffic safety, and other issues. The project site, on 17 acres just north of the railroad trestle crossing over Highway 99 to the north of town, will be annexed to Ashland, along with smaller areas of Highway 99 and railroad property.

Difficult topography and encumbrances such as the trestle and private driveways mean that Ashland will have to approve exceptions to some street design standards — the source of several concerns for Rogue Advocates.

The latest LUBA decision regarding Grand Terrace requires the city to address two remaining issues: minimum parking requirements and the size of the affordable units. Other arguments raised by Rogue Advocates in their appeal were dismissed by LUBA.

On-street parking is not proposed for the development, as Highway 99 is the local street. The development will provide just under one off-street parking space per unit.

Rogue Advocates contested the city’s ability to provide an exception to its on-street parking requirements, and the city acknowledged this error before LUBA. However, the city then argued that new state parking standards — required by Oregon’s Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities (CFEC) program — preclude the city from enforcing minimum parking requirements. Those standards went into effect Jan. 1 of this year and are intended to reduce dependence on cars by allowing for development that encourages walking, biking and transit.

The site plan for the Grand Terrace project off Highway 99 just north of Ashland.

The legal question then becomes: can a city approve a development under one set of standards and then apply lesser standards that the state later imposes? The city attorney has advised that Ashland can do this. The Planning Commission agreed. At the Planning Commission hearing, Craig Anderson, representing Rogue Advocates, stated that his organization disagrees and may pursue yet another LUBA appeal if the city continues on this course. An alternate course would be for the developer to resubmit their applications under the new standards.

As for the size of the affordable units, the difference of 1 square foot oddly became the topic of discussion. City standards require that one-bedroom units designated for affordable housing be at least 500 square feet. Casitas proposed one-bedroom units at 499 square feet. While the City argued that this small discrepancy would be fixed before issuing final permits, LUBA cited this as a clear error.

Why the developer proposed 499 square feet remains unclear. A small change to the entranceways for the affordable units will fulfill the 500 square foot minimum. This small adjustment will increase the overall density calculation for the development, as 500 square feet is a breaking point in that calculation.

Ashland Planning Manager Derek Severson acknowledged the increase in the density calculation, but maintains that this will not require the developer to reduce the overall number of units. In response to a question, Severson also asserted that the change will not lead to an increase in fees owed by Casitas to the city.

While Casitas Developments describes Grand Terrace as providing “luxury apartments,” they have also said that their target market is workforce housing. Severson at the Planning Department projects some combination of young professionals and college students. Rogue Advocates has raised concerns that Grand Terrace may provide vacation housing for those visiting Ashland.

The Grand Terrace development will go back to the Planning Commission on Sept. 12 for a final recommendation to the City Council. The council will then hold their hearings on Oct. 3 and 17. If approved by the city, Rogue Advocates will then make a decision as to whether to appeal to LUBA for the third time.

Email Ashland resident, lawyer and former environmental law instructor Craig Breon at ckbtravel@earthlink.net.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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