Council could give second and final approval to project just north of current city limits
By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news
The Ashland City Council is preparing to annex 17 acres along Highway 99 for a proposed 230-unit apartment complex after a similar proposal was scuttled by state regulators last year over pedestrian safety standards.
During the council’s upcoming business meeting Tuesday, Dec. 20, officials are scheduled to hold a second and final vote to annex property for the Grand Terrace housing development after unanimous approval during a first reading Dec. 6.
Both the city’s Planning Department and Planning Commission have recommended approval of annexation and an attached development plan. Officials said the proposal, which would include 38 units of low-income housing, would bring much-needed relief to Ashland’s overwhelmed housing market and help stabilize rental prices, particularly for working-class residents and those seeking smaller dwellings.
“I’m in full agreement that we need additional housing here in Ashland and this is a beginning of something I hope continues,” said Councilor Gina DuQuenne on Dec. 6.
Annexed before, and overturned
The council previously voted to annex the same property Dec. 15, 2020, for an earlier iteration of Grand Terrace with 190 units. At the time, they granted an exemption from city development standards related to sidewalk safety because various geographic and logistical barriers made it impractical to construct sidewalks along the highway in full compliance with city code.
City ordinance at the time allowed for such exemptions during the consideration of development plans and zoning variances if planned safety features were comparable to what was required by code, but did not explicitly allow exemptions during the annexation process. On this basis, the annexation was appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) by local development watchdog Rogue Advocates, who argued the city’s decision was improper and illegal.
LUBA reversed the annexation May 12, 2021, on the grounds the City Council did not have the quasi-judicial authority to re-interpret its development codes in the context of its decision to annex, nor did the application to annex the property meet all the criteria for an exemption. The council has since revised Ashland’s development code to allow for exemptions during annexation, and a more complete application for annexation was submitted by developers for Grand Terrace.
Advocates still concerned
Rogue Advocates has criticized the city’s response to the LUBA decision and, in a Nov. 1 letter to city officials, said changes to the development codes don’t address actual public safety concerns but instead showed “the City of Ashland intends to bend over backwards in order to accommodate (developers).”
“In fact, the City went so far as to include (developer Bob) Kendrick on the committee to come up with the recommendations before you tonight — recommendations that will affect the profitability of his development and add costs to city taxpayers,” said the letter. “And these recommendations also come from people with direct ties to political candidates aligned with Mr. Kendrick, people who have pledged to deal with ‘excessive system development charges’ without identifying how infrastructure will otherwise be paid for.”
The letter requested the council delay voting on annexation until concerns can be addressed related to the impacts of system development charges, which are fees charged to developers to help support public infrastructure. The group also said, while it supports development and access to affordable housing in Ashland, they are concerned that accommodations made for Grand Terrace will not help local residents but instead will unfairly benefit a commercial real estate developer and set potentially-harmful precedents.
Developers, city speak to concerns
During the Dec. 6 meeting, Kendrick, with Casita Developments, and Amy Gunter, owner of Rogue Planning and Development Services, addressed the safety concerns raised by Rogue Advocates and said, though Grand Terrace is still not able to meet city development standards, their proposed sidewalk plans do comply with Oregon Department of Transportation Safety requirements. They said an existing highway embankment and railroad trestle make it impractical, if not impossible, to add the safety barriers prescribed by the city, but proposed sidewalks will still be broad enough to meet state standards, and that ODOT is prepared to conduct a traffic study of that section of Hwy. 99 to determine if the speed limit should be lowered.
The Ashland Planning Department, in a memo recommending annexation, said these physical barriers to development are not unusual in areas near the city limits that may someday be annexed, because construction and design standards are different for county land and for lower-density zones. If Ashland is going to accommodate the expansion of its city limits to such areas, argued the department, exemptions to development codes may be necessary.
The meeting is set to begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20, in a hybrid format, both on Zoom and in person in the Council Chambers at 1175 E. Main St. It may also be viewed on Channel 9 or Channels 180 and 181 (Charter Communications), or live streamed online via rvtv.sou.edu (select RVTV Prime).
Dec. 21 update: The date of the meeting in the last paragraph was corrected.