‘I will be back’ with new application for much-needed housing project has softened to an ‘I’ll see’
By Craig Breon for Ashland.news
In a clearly emotional moment before the Ashland City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 3, Robert Kendrick, a partner in Casita Developments’ 230-unit Grand Terrace apartments proposal, announced, “I’m going to have to withdraw the application.”
The silence that followed said volumes about the development process that, according to Kendrick, began in 2014 and led to a first application in 2019 and a second application in 2022.
The Grand Terrace proposal, to be built adjacent to Highway 99 just beyond the railroad overpass on the northwest end of the city, has seen unanimous approvals by more than one iteration of the Ashland Planning Commission and City Council. However, Grand Terrace has also been the subject of two successful appeals of those approvals to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) by the local land use advocacy nonprofit Rogue Advocates. It is the latest of these appeals that seems to have prompted Kendrick to withdraw his application.
At the council meeting, Kendrick asserted, “I will be back,” implying that Casita would likely modify the proposal to address the legal issues raised by the LUBA appeal and then bring a revised proposal back to the city. In a subsequent interview with Ashland.news, however, when asked about resubmitting his application after modifications, Kendrick was less decided, saying, “I’ll see.” He also raised the possibility of submitting a new proposal of for-sale condominiums rather than rental apartments.
Grand Terrace, which would have included 38 deed-restricted affordable units in addition to relatively small market-rate rentals, has been seen as a major step in addressing Ashland’s housing needs. Mayor Tonya Graham, in her 2023 State of the City Address, cited the 2022 approval of Grand Terrace as one of two major accomplishments in Ashland’s efforts towards more affordable housing.
Grand Terrace has also been the subject of pointed attacks against the developer, city staff and the City Council — both in public hearings and on social media. Opponents have focused on the fact that the city has more than once changed developments standards to accommodate Grand Terrace, as well as perceived flaws in traffic and safety, the livability of the proposed affordable units, and whether the project overall would address Ashland’s housing needs or cater to out-of-towners looking for “luxury” apartments.
Kendrick, in turn, asserts that Rogue Advocates has appealed the approvals based on technical grounds as opposed to substantive reasons and that Rogue Advocates is using their opposition to Grand Terrace to improve fundraising.
In this most recent appeal, LUBA ruled in favor of Rogue Advocates on two issues: parking requirements and the size of the 38 affordable units. Several other concerns raised by Rogue Advocates were rejected by LUBA.
Ashland’s Municipal Code requires residential developments to provide at least one on-street parking space for every dwelling unit. Due to its frontage on Highway 99, Grand Terrace proposed no on-street parking. The Planning Commission recommended and City Council granted an exception to the code, based on the inability to put the required parking along the highway.
According to LUBA, and now acknowledged by city staff, this exception was in error. Staff’s presentation to the council on Oct. 3 briefly noted that the city should have used a process called a variance rather than an exception. A variance is a legal mechanism to grant relief from normal standards. Variances require a local jurisdiction to make a number of findings, generally based on the unique nature of the property involved and the resulting hardship to the developer or landowner in meeting specified standards.
Before LUBA, Ashland staff argued that recent state rules — based on the Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities program (CFEC) — dictated that Ashland could no longer require minimum parking spaces for a development like Grand Terrace. Those new rules went into effect on Jan. 1 of this year. Rogue Advocates countered this argument by saying that the application for Grand Terrace had been submitted in July 2022 and final City Council approval occurred in December 2022, before the new CFEC rules.
The CFEC rules specifically state that they apply to development proposals submitted after Dec. 31, 2022. It is likely this language that convinced the attorneys for Casita Developments to advise Kendrick to withdraw its current application.
Subsequent to the council meeting, in response to a question from Ashland.news, Craig Anderson, who represented Rogue Advocates in the Grand Terrace approval process, acknowledged that if Casita were to resubmit their application, the new CFEC parking rules would apply and no minimum parking spaces could be required.
On the question of the size of the 38 units designated for affordable housing, the Ashland Municipal Code is also clear. To qualify, studio units must be a minimum of 350 square feet and one-bedroom units must be a minimum of 500 square feet.
Grand Terrace proposed studio units of 250 square feet and one-bedroom units of 499 square feet. It was argued before LUBA by city staff that a de minimum change to the floor plans would allow the 499 square foot units to comply with the 500-squar- foot requirements, that this change would be made at the final plan stage, and that Ashland had specifically conditioned approval on compliance with the city’s standards for affordable housing. Thus, if the 250-square-foot studios were to be counted, they would have to be enlarged.
City staff, Rogue Advocates, and LUBA all seem to have assumed that the studio units would be used to satisfy some of the affordable unit requirements. Kendrick claims this was never the intent. Instead, he would use the larger units to meet all city requirements and the smaller studios would be rented at market rate, to provide a different price point.
Kendrick has consistently described Grand Terrace as providing “work-force housing” and claimed before the City Council that Grand Terrace is “100% smaller units driven by smaller households, shrinking budgets and incomes.” He added, “No apartments (by for-profit developers) meeting this type and size have been built in the last four decades.” In a later interview, Kendrick noted that he has five family members in Ashland who are renters.
Kendrick offers no timeline for Grand Terrace moving forward. Medford and more than 10 other Oregon cities have launched a lawsuit challenging various aspects of the state’s new CFEC development rules. Kendrick may wait until a decision in that case.
The LUBA decision on Grand Terrace appears to present hurdles relatively easy to overcome, but Kendrick adds, “I want to make sure that everything going forward is absolutely clear. I hear what Craig (Anderson of Rogue Advocates) is saying, and what the city is saying, but I want to hear what Bob (Kendrick) is saying.”
Email Ashland resident, lawyer and former environmental law instructor Craig Breon at firstname.lastname@example.org.