Agendas and Minutes

Planning Commission (View All)

Planning/Housing Joint Study Session

Tuesday, September 24, 2002





SEPTEMBER 24, 2002


The meeting was called to order at 7:10 p.m. by Chair Mike Gardiner. Other Planning Commissioners present were Alex Amarotico, Kerry KenCairn, Marilyn Briggs, Russ Chapman, Colin Swales, and Ray Kistler. Mike Morris and John Fields were absent. Housing Commissioners present were Andy Dungan, Joan Legg, Kim Blackwolf, Jon Uto, Richard Seidman and Larry Medinger. Nancy Richardson and Diana Shavey were absent. Staff present were John McLaughlin, Bill Molnar and Sue Yates.


Molnar said several months ago the City Council authorized some monies for an affordable housing study. The study was split into two phasesL: 1) a Needs Assessment and Housing Needs Analysis and 2) the Action Plan. The consultants are here this evening to present the Action Plan. They are Kurt Webring, Sextant Consultants and Matt Hastings, Cogan Owens Cogan.

Webring said the Needs Assessment points out that in just three years (1998 to 2001) the sales price of housing went up 50 percent to $277,000 for a house. That suggests the housing market is rapidly changing. One of the implications of that is that without any kind of planning intervention, those people who are in the affordable range (including middle income) will be priced out of the market. Webring also noted that SOU, the schools and hospital, all say that about one-half of their employees live outside Ashland. That implies that lower income will find it harder and harder to live in Ashland. There are things lost in not living where you work as well as impact on traffic, pollution, etc. There is a sense of urgency in finding solutions. Though the recommendations may take some time, the sooner they can get them to work, the better.

Webring discussed their recommendations.

Goal 1. Hire a full-time housing coordinator. That person can be an expert in housing and committed to affordable housing. It is a very complex field. If the position is going to be permanent, the housing coordinator will have to figure out a way that position can be funded.

Goal 2. One role of the housing coordinator is to facilitate the process of applying for housing funds by non-profit housing organizations. Webring does not advise the city to get into the business of building. It is better to work with the existing providers. There are quite a few - RVCDC, Habitat, ACCESS, Options, ACLT, etc.

Goal 3. Form an affordable housing trust. Webring believes the Housing Commission can play a role by figuring out how this can be done. The housing coordinator might run it. Should this be a city function or done by a non-profit?

Goal 4. Develop a long-term continuous funding stream. In the report on page 9, there are some options.

A. Real estate transfer tax. There is only one county in Oregon that has it now (Washington County). Based just on housing sales, Webring has calculated some income numbers from the transfer tax.

B. Hotel/motel tax.

C. Food and beverage tax - committed until 2010. This is a long-term strategy.

D. Interest on earnest money in escrow.

Goal 5. Major employers have major concerns about housing. They have started an employer-assisted housing group that is continuing in their effort.

Goal 6. Working with some of the non-profits in the valley to preserve the existing affordable housing to promote long-term affordability.

Hastings said the city already has a program to defer Systems Development Charges in certain situations. They are recommending continuing this, but there might be more ways. Keep the houses in the supply of affordable housing (long-term measure). This would mean waiving the SDC's over a longer period.

The plan discusses waiving other types of fees such as engineering fees, permit fees, utility hook-up fees, etc. It might be possible to reduce monthly utilities for homeowners that meet low-income affordability requirements. The city can look at a range of things they are doing and decide what the cap would be. The City of Eugene has a $50,000 cap per year and Portland $500,000.

Land Use Regulatory Strategies. Hastings said in 1991, the city adopted a number of different land use strategies to encourage affordable housing. There are other areas identified in the plan. A supply of land available for affordable housing that might be targeted for specific development. Hastings said Ashland has a strong single family market and the city currently allows single family housing development in the multi-family zone. A fair bit of that land has been developed for single family houses over the last few years. Hastings is recommending restricting further development of single family housing in multi-family zones. Identify specific land for re-zoning for multi-family use. Identify specific sites for potential multi-story mixed use development to take advantage of a new state program, vertical housing tax credit program. Develop the school property (on East Main) for affordable housing. Hastings said they are recommending making accessory units outright permitted uses in single family zones. Consider reducing total lot coverage requirements for accessory units. Require a certain percentage of development in new subdivisions be on small lots.

Webring discussed the goal charging the Housing Commission to work on community understanding about affordable housing and to build support among the general public and community leaders for affordable housing. This requries a long-term sustained effort. Hartzell asked if there are model education programs they could use. She would like to see some of the tactics in their final report. Webring said the housing coordinator would be actively involved in this. The half-time position will begin in December or January. It is Hartzell's understanding it will be full-time for one-half the year as a contract person.

Briggs asked who pays the real estate transfer tax. Webring thought it was the seller. Briggs asked what would happen to the sales price when a house is locked into affordability for sixty years. Webring said the idea is that they would be developed by non-profit organizations and maintained as affordable. Briggs wondered how one would get any equity plus ten or 15 years profit. Webring said one way is to specify the sell back terms.

Medinger is thinking the sixty-year restriction would only be for non-profit organization produced housing. The reason his own project can afford to commit to a sixty-year affordable future, it is getting a huge input of funds from the government. All of the math makes sense. The sixty-year minimum will never make sense if produced by a private developer.

Molnar said the city does not have a minimum lot size for a new subdivision. We have a density. Molnar asked if the consultants have ever seen cities that require a percentage of the units not exceed a certain size. Ashland has seen that small lots can still accommodate higher end housing. Maybe we could limit a certain percentage of units to a certain square footage.

David Allen wondered if a study has been done on construction costs of lower priced houses. Medinger said the major costs are in land and city fees, not construction costs. McLaughlin said Adair Homes limits their product to reduce construction costs. Webring said manufactured housing is lower cost.

Medinger wondered what other communities do to get land.

Seidman said one of the strengths of the ECONorthwest Needs Analysis was that it quantified clearly the needs and different levels of housing. What are the potential costs to the city to hire the housing coordinator and how much will that investment buy for affordable housing units and for what income levels? Webring said it is hard to anticipate the success of a housing coordinator and his/her ability to secure the kinds of grants they might receive. It has to do with a competitive process. They could try to provide a range of possibilities and tally up the cost to the city.

Kistler commented on the question of the impact of reducing fees. He has working recently on a project with a half-dozen homes to be built in Ashland. The lots will cost $125,000, the homes will cost $150,000 to construct and $25,000 in SDC's and other soft costs. The developer is into the homes $300,000 each. What drives the sales price of the house is the breaking point of what people will buy. The houses will go on the market for $450,000. There is $150,000 windfall. He doesn't see where adjusting fees a little here and there will make a hill of beans to the cost of the homes. They are not being priced what they cost to produce. They are being priced at what the new immigrants are willing to pay to move into them. The same homes in Medford on $65,000 lots, are priced at $230,000. There are a lot of great programs in the plan but he doubts they will help drop the sales price.

Eric Navickas said the city should be careful when talking about developing property owned by the school for affordable housing. The development of school property could turn some community members against affordable housing.

Hartzell would like to see the goals and priorities tied to the Needs Assessment according our greatest need.

Blackwolf is very concerned because she hears a lot of weight being put on non-profit affordable housing developers. She believes the capacity we need, far outstrips the ability of every local affordable housing developer she has ever worked with. It also relieves the responsibility of the development and real estate community for affordable housing

In response to Kistler's comment, Dungan said we have cheated ourselves by taking away all the multi-family land by creating a situation of putting a small house on a small lot and charging huge prices. It seems zoning is a big part of how we create an inventory of land that could conceivably be desirable.

Swales said it seems like the problem of low wages is missing in the report. He would like to see the Council see some family wage jobs come to this town. There has been no mention of charitable giving for funding a trust. Oregon Shakespeare Festival has made a great plan with their patrons to make donations to OSF. With the demographics changing here, and a large number of retirees moving in, there might be an opportunity for charitable remainder trusts or bequeaths to donate to a land trust. With regard to the transfer tax and who should pay it, if the price of the house has gone up, the real estate commission has also gone up. Maybe the real estate community could be encouraged or mandated to give back some of their windfall to the community with charitable giving.

Kistler believes the problem seems pretty easy to solve if the society of Ashland is willing to accept it. There is no land to build on and that is why the cost of housing is so high. There are no choices. It is easy to become more affordable by bringing in more land. He does not think the community is willing to pay that price to have a diverse population. He noted the single-family homes on multi-family property are usually townhomes.

Navickas said there is a tendency to get caught up in the American standard of housing types. He believes we can go to extremely high density housing, especially in the downtown area. He would like to see inexpensive rentals in the downtown ($300/mo.).

Seidman wondered if there would be an opportunity to review another draft before it goes to the final version. Molnar is hoping after this meeting that within the next week, the Commissioners would forward by e-mail, any comments they might have. He said he would make some changes and possibly have the final draft at the next Housing Commission meeting.

Seidman said in looking at the strategies in the plan, it seems they are all rather tried and true. Are there strategies they looked at in other communities that are more innovative? Webring said there could be. He said they wanted to find things that were feasible in this community.

Medinger thought that in order for the Council to commit to allocating money, it would help if we knew of other communities that did certain things that have proven results.

Webring said the housing trust is leading edge. They have included some information about what is being done elsewhere. Also, there are charitable trusts. Major institutions can work on acquiring housing for their people. Briggs believes this is property that comes off the tax roles and that would only add to the problem.

(Kistler left the meeting.)

Hartzell would like a strategy for how to address the huge demand we have for rentals.

Molnar said if anyone has comments about the plan, to forward them to Molnar in the next week and he will make sure they get to the consultants.


McLaughlin said there is an error on Page 1 of his memo. On the bottom of the page where the sentence ends, it should continue with "...or a gross floor area of 45,000 square feet."

McLaughlin made the changes that were discussed at last month’s meeting. They separated the design standards for outside the downtown but within the Detailed Site Review zone. Look at the red print for changes. Briggs noted a typo on Page 1 - put the word buildings back in - it should not be crossed out.


Swales wondered why this ordinance would only apply to the Detailed Site Review Zone. Is it too limited? He would like to see some wording to tighten the section about buildings touching. What about sharing mechanical equipment? He would also like to see design standards for parking garages. It is floor area, bulky and part of the building. Somehow it has to be ameliorated with the design of the building, frontage or street access.

Swales said E-1 properties have no size limitations. If you discount the contiguity you can subdivide the lot as many times as you want. You could have a series of 45,000 square foot buildings, so then the ordinance becomes meaningless.

McLaughlin said we want to allow for larger buildings in some areas. The main commercial corridors are subject to the Detailed Site Review zone. These areas are the most visible. The overlay can be increased.

McLaughlin said with regard to contiguity, the idea is what you see. What is the impact on the street and what is the impact on the streetscape and viewer? If they are touching underground, you can't see it and it is not part of the mass and scale. If they are not touching above ground, they are two separate buildings.

As far as the residential not counting, there are policies in the Comp Plan that encourage mixed-use. If a commercial developer is limited in how many commercial square feet he can put in a building and wants to do apartments as well, if there is a greater demand for commercial, he will drop the apartments and maximize his commercial space. Staff’s thinking if we didn’t count the residential square footage, is that it might be an incentive to do a more mixed-use approach.

McLaughlin said they are not too concerned about downtown development because of the existing pattern of development.

Swales is concerned that buildings can be built to the property line with no landscaping requirement and no other added amenities. It seems a developer can get as much as they want. McLaughlin said in the downtown, landscaping generally consists of street trees. We want to have the intensity and activity happening right up against the edge of the sidewalk. The ice cream store on First and E. Main Streets is an example of how the landscaping separates the storefront from the pedestrians.

BILL STREET, 180 Meade Street, said he believes the real issue is how would Ashland look if we did or did not make changes. He is not sure we have grappled with that. Forty-five thousand square feet in the downtown is an outrageous size. We need to think about how this will impact the downtown. Maybe this needs to be clarified for the citizens. He is hopeful that when this comes to a hearing, that they will figure out a way to get people to attend the meeting.

Gardiner told Street if he wished to submit anything, he could turn it in at the office and it can be distributed in the Commissioners’ packets.

Chapman received Street’s e-mal and he asked if the square footages are sufficient to limit the big boxes and sufficient if philosophically we are trying to encourage locally owned businesses.

Hartzell said she would love to take a tour of downtown, stand in front of a building and see how it feels and walk down a block and see how that feels.

ADJOURNMENT - The meeting was adjourned at 9:35 p.m.



























































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