An issue of space

An issue of space

A downtown residential complex could rise above a downtown parking lot under a proposal that will be presented to the Medford Urban Renewal Agency on Thursday.

MURA owns the 75-space parking lot at the corner of 10th Street and Central Avenue, across Central from the Medford library branch.

Under the proposal for the residential complex, the building would be raised above the ground-level parking lot, which would still be available to the public and for students at nearby Rogue Community College.

Few details have been made available on the proposal. Bill Hoke, deputy city manager, said he would not reveal any information about it until the developer unveils his plan at the noon Thursday meeting of the MURA Board in City Hall, 411 W. Eighth St.

He said developers had previously expressed interest in both parking lots on Central Avenue across from the library and RCC.

City officials have hoped to create more downtown residential space ever since the commercial and residential project known as Bella Vita was killed in 2008 by prevailing-wage disputes and the Great Recession. The Bella Vita would have been built around the Evergreen parking garage on Main Street. An office complex is now planned for that site.

Students and merchants expressed skepticism about the residential complex idea, largely because of parking concerns. The city has instituted paid parking in the downtown area and is expanding other parking sites to free up more spaces, but parking remains a sore subject for students and merchants.

"I feel for the college students," said Vinny DiCostanzo, owner of Paisans Pizzaria. "I see them scrambling around looking for parking."

DiCostanzo said he's not sure if a residential development would help his business, which is popular with students at lunchtime. However, he was taken with the idea of a building elevated over a parking lot.

"How cool is that?" said DiCostanzo. "That would be like a big city feel."

Parking for students should improve once MURA finalizes a deal to pay $525,000 for the former Dollar GMC lot on South Riverside Avenue.

City officials estimate that 100 parking spaces could be placed on the Dollar property, although the exact amount could depend on riparian setbacks.

The 1.33-acre property on the northeast corner of East 10th Street and Riverside is about a block from the parking lot site being considered for the residential complex.

Student Andrew Johnson, a 34-year-old Phoenix resident, said he would be concerned about the loss of any parking spaces near the college.

He said he would hope the city finishes the Dollar GMC parking lot before it allows a developer to build housing across from the library.

"I wonder if they would make the housing affordable for RCC students," Johnson said. "But, I can't see them spending that much and having it be low-income housing."

A source familiar with the proposal said the development would not be low-income housing.

The Jackson County Housing Authority is in the process of developing plans for a low-income housing project that would feature 50 residences several blocks away at the corner of Sixth and Grape streets.

The Housing Authority and the city haven't finalized their deal on the Sixth Street project, awaiting environmental reviews to determine whether there is any contamination of the soil caused by underground storage tanks. The property is a MURA parking lot.

Jason Elzy, executive director of the Housing Authority, said the Housing Authority will seek land-use approvals for the four-story apartment complex this summer. He said it could take up to five years for the project to be built.

Elzy said the Housing Authority is not involved in the Central Avenue project, though he said adding more residences in the downtown area sounded like a good idea.

Bob Oxford, a 62-year-old Central Point resident, said the city should open the new parking lot on Riverside Avenue before the residential housing project begins.

"There's not much parking down there now," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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