Cold morning dampens turnout, but not discussion; talk turns to development opportunities
By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news
A small number of Ashland residents turned out Tuesday morning to talk to city councilors and staff about issues on their minds. To escape the late fall chill, Southern Oregon University hosted the event at the Hannon Library with SOU President Rick Bailey and other university staff in attendance.
Residents questioned newly promoted acting City Manager Sabrina Cotta about the future of development in Ashland.
“I would be curious to see what would be the effects in creating a little bit more high density on the north side of town. Does that mean a market opens or like a store, because now you’re serving people, you suddenly have more available services to the community?” said Dave Isser, an Ashland resident.
Cotta affirmed a potential future for Ashland with centers of commerce and services beyond the current hub of the downtown Plaza. But Ashland’s opportunities are limited.
“We don’t have large tracts of land. The railroad and Croman Mills, we’re fairly limited, so those parcels will be very important for development. Getting density, getting variety, potentially a commercial, residential industrial mix,” Cotta said.
The vision outlined by Townmakers LLC — the development company seeking to purchase the Croman Mills site — described a district with that mix of commercial and residential that could benefit Ashland, she said. The planned community would also include a mixture of low-income and market rate housing. Seeing the project come to fruition all depends on how long the clean-up process for the former mill site may take.
Jeanne Stallman, SOU’s associate vice president for government relations and outreach, quizzed Ashland Emergency Management Coordinator Kelly Burns about the city’s new shelter at 2200 Ashland St.
“The city needed a space. That’s what this building will be in the long term, it will be a severe weather shelter. We’re not sure if it’s going to be a homeless shelter, ” Burns said.
The city may not be able to fund the substantial changes the building would require to meet fire code once the governor’s emergency order — and its protective loophole around that code — expires. While the building does have fire alarms installed, it is still without a sprinkler system and other required installations for fire safety, he said. The windows would also have to be lowered to meet standards for long-term human occupancy.
“It’s not only for people to get out, but for firefighters to get in,” Burns said.
The building could be used long term as a severe weather shelter for smoke, heat, cold or other extreme events because occupancy is limited to short time frames and small groups. But the building’s future could also change as the city continues to try to solve problems.
“People are like, ‘What happens when it’s done?’ and I’m like, ‘That’s a great question’,” Burns said.
Speaking to Baily and other SOU staff, Councilor Paula Hyatt highlighted the purpose of these Coffee and Conversation events.
“During the pandemic, we became so isolated we just needed to get out into the community. … A lot of times you think you know what people are thinking, but we (City Council) may only hear from six, it could be as many as 50, but 50 is still a small sum. By doing this and being able to chat with people we can understand what’s really on their minds,” she said.
Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at email@example.com.