Plans shaping up even as cleaning up makes progress
By Craig Breon for Ashland.news
After years of near inactivity, owners and developers of the Croman Mill property — 61 acres on the south end of Ashland — have picked up the pace both in cleanup of the site and in preparing a formal application for a mixed-use project of hundreds of homes as well as a variety of business opportunities. At a City Council study session Monday, Feb. 5, council members said they appreciated the work of recent months while urging all those involved to continue close communication to advance the twin goals of cleanup and planning.
“I’m really excited. We are starting to move forward with a much more rapid pace,” said Mike Weinstock, a representative for Townmakers LLC, the current planners for the mill site. He continued with news on traffic analysis, a pre-application submitted to the city for discussion, drafting a development agreement, outreach to affordable housing developers, and progress of the property owners on cleanup of toxics at the site.
“We’re getting pretty darned detailed,” he added.
The Croman Mill site presents Ashland with a scale of developable land not seen for decades. The creation of the “Croman Mill District” occurred in 2010-2011 and originally focused heavily on commercial and industrial development, with a small share of housing. The site’s proximity to Interstate 5 might have attracted big box retailers or larger manufacturers.
While economic development opportunities are still important to the City Council, as evidenced from questions and comments at the study session, housing goals clearly have come to the fore. Townmakers’ representatives conveyed their intent for a wide variety of housing types, including ownership and rental, varying square footage to accommodate individuals and families, some live/work units for home businesses, and a significant component of affordable housing, though the number of affordable units will depend on numerous factors, primarily around funding.
When developers of the Grand Terrace project on the north end of Ashland withdrew their application last fall, the city lost, for now, an opportunity to create 230 housing units, including 38 dedicated affordable units. This only added to the urgency to move Croman Mill forward. Like Grand Terrace, Croman Mill development requires annexing land to Ashland that is now in Jackson County. Such annexation allows the city to require a greater number of affordable units, as the increase in value of the annexed lands can support such a requirement.
At the study session, representatives of Townmakers admitted their lack of background in the arena of affordable housing. Weinstock announced that Townmakers is now “in talks with several experienced affordable housing developers.”
The Townmakers representatives are also in discussion with Ashland Community Development Department staff about possible funding mechanisms for affordable housing. Tax Increment Financing (TIF), where future increases in tax revenues can be used for infrastructure improvements, will be an important part of the discussion. Townmakers will also work with staff and affordable housing developers on sources of grant funding and other finance mechanisms.
The overall layout of Croman Mill development is also becoming clearer. Roughly bisecting the property, two large zones would be established, one emphasizing housing and the other commercial and small-scale industrial development, though neither would be exclusively one type. Fulfilling the notion of “mixed-use,” each zone would provide some flexibility to place a business where housing was originally envisioned and vice versa. Townmakers assured the council that residents would not be living next to a big-rig trucking warehouse, but they might live next to a small manufacturing facility or a tech start-up.
Design guidelines would ensure a consistent look throughout the project, no matter what developer or end user might acquire sections of land in the future.
Traffic analysis is considering a roundabout on Siskiyou Boulevard as well as three planned bus stops running at least every half-hour. A biking and walking path would be built along the railway right-of-way on the property and connect to Ashland’s existing arterial pathway.
Ashland’s Director of Community Development, Brandon Goldman, led the optimistic discussion on cleanup for the Croman site. On Nov. 20, engineers for the property owners submitted an Interim Cleanup Plan to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which was approved.
There are two focal cleanup areas: less contaminated sites of former “wigwam burners,” incinerators used to dispose of waste; and a more contaminated area formerly used for wood treatment. Each area will require roughly 600 cubic yards of soil to be removed and landfilled, with one landfill site identified and another being sought.
Goldman announced, to considerable satisfaction from the council, that this initial cleanup is proposed to be finished in May. After that, the remaining soils will be retested to determine if any additional treatment or removal is needed.
Councilor Paula Hyatt echoed the thoughts of the council overall in praising the “faster clip” of the cleanup efforts, to which Goldman concurred.
Email Ashland resident, consultant and former environmental law instructor Craig Breon at email@example.com.