Jacksonville project goes forward after zone change

JACKSONVILLE — The historic Cascade Christian High School property has been partially rezoned to allow for commercial use, opening the door for a new owner to reinvigorate the old buildings.

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to remove the special protection zoning on the northern portions of the 7.57-acre property. The baseball fields and other areas in the southerly sections of the property will remain under the special protection zoning, said City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen.

Designed to protect green spaces and structures within the city's historic core, special protection zoning also effectively prohibits for-profit businesses, said Wyntergreen.

The change allows purchasers Brooke and Mel Ashland to use the old school as the new location for their two businesses — Cutler Investment Group and Ashland Partners.

"Jacksonville is moving into the future, while protecting the integrity of its past," Brooke Ashland said.

The Ashlands have renamed the property Bigham Knoll, after the family that owned the land in Jacksonville's early days.

At a public hearing Tuesday, Brooke Ashland walked council and audience members though a multi-page report detailing the changes she plans for the property located in the cultural and historic heart of Jacksonville.

The proposal includes a new private preschool in the old language building, a German restaurant adjacent to the old cafeteria, and a new performing arts center in the old gymnasium.

The property comprises six tax lots and 44,642 square feet of aging buildings, including the former Jacksonville High School, which was remodeled to become Cascade Christian High School in 1994.

Although they will refurbish two adjacent homes into guest retreats, Brooke Ashland said neither she nor her husband has any interest in turning the historic property into a residential development.

Their ultimate goal is to be good stewards of the old school and its campus, she said.

"We've been working with (local historian) George Kramer," she said.

The Ashlands have been negotiating with Cascade officials for almost two years, Brooke Ashland said, but removal of the restrictive zoning was necessary to complete the sale.

City Councilman John Dodero said the rezoning would permanently allow for-profit businesses on the property. Dodero asked the Ashlands if their plans included any plans to mitigate the effects of increased traffic and other consequences of commercial use.

Brooke Ashland said her proposal for the property would produce significantly less traffic in the area. Traffic around Cascade had averaged 593 car trips a day. Her plan calls for a maximum of 336 daily trips, she said.

Longtime Jacksonville resident Clara Wendt said the Ashlands' plan for the property was well received by alumni of the old high school during a recent reunion.

"This is the highest and best use for this property since the city was unable to purchase it," Wendt said. "This is a fantastic plan."

A citizens' committee had previously researched and approved the requested zone change, said Wyntergreen.

City Councilman Bill Leep voiced relief that the Ashland's had garnered so much community support — and that they apparently had the funds to proceed.

"That's quite a capital investment," said Leep.

The Ashlands' multi-million dollar offer on the property has been accepted by Cascade officials, but they have declined to disclose the specific purchase price. The lots and buildings have been assessed by Jackson County at $1.25 million for tax purposes.

The Ashlands have been leasing the property from Cascade. Now that the zone change has been approved, the deal is slated to close by the end of this month, she added

Brooke Ashland has stated previously that Cascade asked for two appraisals on the property — one with the special zone in place, and one without. The Ashlands offered the full amount, as if the special protection zoning were removed, thus negating the economic benefit for Cascade to proceed with a Measure 37 claim, she said.

Cascade officials have previously stated their $1.85 million Measure 37 claim, filed in Nov. 2006, would remain open until the sale is complete.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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