MURA revives plan to build apartments over parking lot

A moribund proposal to build a residential complex above an existing parking lot on Central Avenue has come back to life.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency board agreed Thursday to create a 90-day exclusive agreement to negotiate with the developer, Mark McKechnie of Oregon Architecture in Medford and Allan Sandler, who has built many projects in Ashland.

"I'm definitely going to support it," said Chris Corcoran, who was named MURA board president Thursday night. "It's a no-lose situation for the city."

The developers propose building a 25-unit residential complex above a parking lot on Central Avenue across the street from the Medford library.

Under the proposal, the city would retain ownership of the parking lot, which would continue to be used by the public.

The residential complex, which would have a central courtyard, would be elevated 12 feet above the parking lot.

Bill Hoke, deputy city manager, said he would return to the MURA board after devising a 90-day exclusive negotiations agreement with developers.

"If we can't get it done in 90 days, then we're done," Hoke said.

The MURA board entered into a similar 90-day agreement on Sept. 19, 2013, but the MURA board decided not to renew it.

However, the developers asked the city to sell them the land, which they would lease back to the city for up to 100 years.

As a result, the MURA board, which initially endorsed the concept, decided not to renew an exclusive 90-day negotiation period.

MURA wanted to retain ownership of the land, and the developers would have paid $1 for "air rights" to build the residential complex. The parking lot would have remained open to the public.

McKechnie has said he didn't realize that retaining ownership of the land was so important to the city. He said the idea of buying the land came up to make the agreement simpler, particularly working out the technical details of how the elevated structure attaches to the parking lot area.

McKechnie told the MURA board that the design of the project was the same as the design submitted last year.

Under the latest proposal, the city would retain full ownership of the parking lot. The developers would retain ownership of only the structure built above the lot as well as supporting columns.

The project calls for apartment-sized, one- and two-bedroom units.

The cost of the project is estimated to be in excess of $2 million, funded by private dollars.

A central open-air courtyard would traverse the center of the complex, from north to south. The courtyard would vary in width from 22 to 35 feet.

Currently the parking lot has 75 spaces; the developer would increase that amount to 85 by removing planters.

Under the proposal, the agreement would allow one parking space for each unit, resulting in a net loss of 15 spaces.

The MURA board voted unanimously to give city staff members the authority to write up the 90-day agreement. MURA board member Tim Jackle abstained, citing a conflict of interest.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.

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