Medford City Council approved an expanded tiny house development for the homeless, but not without harsh words first for backers. [MT File Photo]

Council chides Hope Village backers

Hope Village supporters got an earful from Medford City Council Thursday when it approved the homeless camp on a second reading.

"I do feel like I'm walking into this with a gun to my head," Councilor Tim D'Alessandro said.

The council voted 6-2 to approve a revised agreement with Rogue Retreat, a homeless advocacy group that has been putting the finishing touches on a 14-unit homeless camp as well as other facilities on adjacent lots.

D'Alessandro was joined by other councilors and Mayor Gary Wheeler in expressing annoyance at the scope of changes for what was originally intended to be a pilot project on a single city lot. Now, a total of four lots, including a remodeled building, are part of the village.

D'Alessandro and other councilors said they don't feel Rogue Retreat kept them informed about the updates to the project, forcing them to approve it as it nears completion.

"The communication has been poor at best," D'Alessandro said.

Rogue Retreat officials say they have kept city staff in the loop regarding the changes, noting that the 14 tiny houses originally proposed on a city lot remain the same number.

Kelly Andersen, on the Rogue Retreat steering committee, said the changes will make the project better, and they still fit in with the original idea of the homeless village.

The project originally would have required hauling in water, trucking in shower facilities once a week, using generators for electricity and propane for cooking, Andersen said.

A private lot, rented after council approved the pilot project, will have facilities with flush toilets and showers for the village. Instead of hauling in water and propane, the village will have access to city water and natural gas.

"We thought it would be less intrusive," Andersen said.

Andersen, a local lawyer, said his reading of Oregon law allows urban campgrounds to have a variety of ancillary facilities such as showers, laundry and a cooking area.

"The city allowed for 14 tiny homes to be built on city property," Andersen wrote in an email response. "That is all that is being built. The separate facilities merely provide better accommodations for those same 14 tiny homes, while at the same time reducing any burden on surrounding neighbors."

Mayor Gary Wheeler said he was frustrated that the council wasn't involved in the change. He said the council put a lot of effort into finding a lot for the village, and Rogue Retreat proceeded with the project before a vote was taken.

"We put a lot of skin in the game on this," he said. "You left us in the dust on this."

Councilor Tim Jackle, who was joined by Councilor Kim Wallan in voting no, said he didn't like having a gun to his head when he was voting on something.

"When somebody does that to me, you know what my vote is," he said.

Councilor Kay Brooks said the project had definitely increased in scope, but she thought the improvements were worth it.

"The reasonable expansion was to improve the livability of the project," she said.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on

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