State mandating encouragement of walkable areas to lessen reliance on carbon-consuming transportation
By Craig Breon for Ashland.news
The state of Oregon is nowhere near meeting ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals set more than a decade ago, making implementing “Climate Friendly Areas” more urgent than ever, local government officials told dozens of area residents gathered Thursday night in Talent’s Community Center.
More than 30 people showed up for a first glimpse at the Climate Friendly Areas (CFAs) proposed for the southern Rogue Valley. Like England’s more snappily named “15 Minute Cities” (walk or bike to what you need in 15 minutes or less), Climate Friendly Areas are meant to be spaces where higher density homes, businesses, shops, and services come together with green spaces and pedestrian-friendly connections to create a community easily accessible to walking, biking, and public transit. More milk runs by bike and office workers stepping out for a local lunch means fewer cars and emissions and, theoretically, happier humans.
Oregon is not on track to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, and the transportation sector shows the bleakest results. Thirty-eight percent of Oregon’s emissions come from cars, trucks and, to a lesser extent, other modes of transport. That number remains stubbornly high, despite the growing popularity of electric cars.
In 2007, Oregon adopted the goal of a 75% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. On its current trajectory, the transportation sector will only see a 25% reduction. Emissions from light-duty vehicles remain essentially the same as the year 2000, though the curve is now trending downwards.
In response to the difficult task of taming emissions from cars and trucks, former Governor Kate Brown initiated the Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities planning process in 2020. Eight of Oregon’s more urban areas of 50,000 or more residents, representing 15 communities, are required to participate, and the timeline is accelerated.
Climate Friendly Areas are to be designated by the end of 2023, with new ordinances and zoning map changes to be adopted by the end of 2024. The eight state areas under consideration are centered around the cities of Portland, Salem, Albany, Corvallis, Eugene, Bend, Grants Pass and Medford.
Thursday’s meeting featured an introductory 20-minute presentation from James Shireman, associate land use planner with the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, followed by an extended mingle. Said mingle saw participants huddled around maps showing three priority CFAs for Medford, one for Talent, and two for Ashland. Ashland’s map also includes two “secondary” CFA options, and the exact boundaries for the CFAs are conceptual at this point.
The impacts of planning for the planet could be game-changing for Ashland, in particular for the site of the former Croman timber mill at the southern end of town.
Originally approved as a redevelopment area in 2010, the Croman Mill site currently calls for creation of perhaps 2,800 office and industrial jobs, with just 2 acres set aside for housing. That no longer aligns with Ashland’s priorities, and the city has been working on changes with landowners and a team of interested developers for at least two years now, according to Derek Severson, senior planner for the Ashland Department of Community Development. Severson optimistically notes that the CFA concept, “will fit with (the developers) vision of the site.”
If Croman Mill is adopted as a CFA, which seems likely, buildings could be up to 50 feet high, required parking space standards would be relaxed, green spaces and especially housing would be significantly beefed up, and extensive infrastructure for electric vehicles would be installed. The other priority CFA for Ashland is the railroad property, north of the tracks between A Street and Hersey Street, but the changes there, while considerable, would be less dramatic due to the already existing level of development.
The equitable component of the Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities effort stems primarily from the possibility of displacing existing low-income and at-risk communities, also known as gentrification. Ashland’s plans will not likely run into this roadblock, but Shireman from the Council of Governments says there may be “indirect” benefits for existing low-income neighborhoods in Medford and elsewhere in the form of better public transit and reduced negative health effects from air pollution.
Doug Knauer, one-year member of the Ashland Planning Commission, attended the event and noted that the Planning Commission has had two major briefings on the new Climate Friendly Communities’ rules and Ashland’s efforts at implementation. While lamenting the bifurcation of downtown Ashland by Highway 99 (Siskiyou Boulevard), he enthused on the possibilities for planning in Ashland’s south, drawing in an aspirational vision of his travels in France, where town squares, even multiple town squares, are often the foci of planning for more sustainable and enjoyable communities. Collegially, he also praised the “bang-up job” Talent has done in reorienting some of their streets towards walking and biking.
Beyond the CFAs, new state rules for reduced parking and increased electric vehicle infrastructure now apply to much of Ashland. As of this January, Ashland can no longer enforce minimum parking space mandates within one-half mile of “frequent transit.” Based on the Rogue Valley Transportation District’s Route 10, this covers about 80% of Ashland.
Another new standard began this month, requiring multi-family developments of five units or more to provide electric vehicle charging infrastructure for 40% of their parking spaces.
There is a separate planning effort underway for the northern Rogue Valley, including Eagle Point and Central Point.
More information on the Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities planning process is available in a six-page review prepared by the state Department of Land Conservation & Development available here: oregon.gov/lcd/CL/Documents/SixPageOverview.pdf.
Email Ashland resident, lawyer and former environmental law instructor Craig Breon at firstname.lastname@example.org.