Ashland rejects regional plan

While the Ashland city council still believes in Regional Problem Solving, it refuses to identify urban reserve land for future development and last night unanimously sent off a resounding rebuke to the RPS panel, saying the regional plan fails to call for the density required to preserve agricultural lands.

The council's response chided the plan for projecting 18 percent of growth into prime farmlands, keeping density below seven units per acre on urban reserve land, ignoring affordable housing and failing to look beyond the personal automobile for mass transit.

"We want to say we believe in regional planning," said Mayor John Morrison. "But this process has gone on (for) four years and it's become a process of staking out territories, so it's 'what are we going to get?' rather than 'what are we going to save?' "

All seven member cities in the valley, plus Jackson County and several state agencies, must agree on the RPS plan in the next two years in order for it to go forward. It will be reviewed and can be amended in 2012.

The Regional Plan draft was given public hearings by the RPS panel in September and October and is in the process of being refined now. The regional problem solving plan came from seven cities and the county under the rvcog to prepare a region-wide approach to the problems of growth because the population of the rogue valley is expected to double by 2050.

Because Ashland is the only city that has declined to identify "urban reserve" lands that will eventually go inside its urban growth boundary for development, Morrison said other jurisdictions have told him "Ashland is not a player" in the RPS process.

However, councilwoman Kate Jackson, who is chairwoman of RPS, said, "We want higher density, but we get to it "¦ by growing in people, not in land," meaning chiefly by infill of land already within the city limits.

"People move here not to live in the Pearl District (a densely populated area of northwest Portland) but to live in single family homes," said Jackson, adding she was encouraged that the RPS plan called for doubling population by urbanizing 9,800 acres, about a third of the 31,000 acres already urbanized in the valley.

Morrison said by not identifying urban reserve lands, the city of Ashland is in the position of having more control over how it develops later.

However, Morrison said, "When we take the position of not growing (in land), someone may cast covetous eyes on it. I don't advocate expansion but I am an advocate of being able to control the way our city does develop. Property only develops if we annex it."

Council members said they were holding fast to their resolve, being the only jurisdiction in RPS not to identify urban reserve land, but Jackson emphasized that once the plan is adopted, Ashland will retain the right to amend it later, possibly staking out such land.

"We are participants in this process," said Morrison. "The only difference is that we are choosing to handle growth with infill inside our urban growth boundary."

Greg Holmes of 1000 Friends of Oregon told the council that his group cannot support the draft RPS plan because 77 percent of lands proposed as urban reserve are now zoned exclusive farm use.

Holmes faulted the RPS plan for not proposing the right kinds of land for employment, not specifying who will pay for it and not proposing transportation options other than "building more and bigger roads."

Planner Steve Rehn, who used to work for Rogue Valley Council of Governments, the overseer of RPS, encouraged the council to ask for more of a plan, especially around transportation serving the areas with future employment and residences, otherwise "the plan could come back to haunt us."

Jackson noted that the Oregon Dept. of Transportation is considering land-use planning as well as projections based on traffic volumes and, "although they are late, it's a tremendous input into the process."

Jackson added that the county and Jacksonville are not happy with the RPS plan, either, and that Phoenix almost dropped out in the past.

Councilman David Chapman said the plan lacked vision, noting "it isn't looking at a long-range plan at all. It looked at current growth and just projected it. Los Angeles did that and killed itself. They're not looking at carrying capacity or different land use practices and we know we're headed into a time or problems with water, food, fuel, air and population problems."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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