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Talent council wrestles with housing affordability

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Proposed changes to Talent city policy and zoning that could provide more housing have been carried over to the May 5 City Council meeting as the body works to determine whether an affordable unit could be required in what would be an 11-unit project.

A developer is seeking an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan that would allow changing land zoned for commercial use to high-density residential. Conversion of a two- acres parcel between Wagner Creek and the Cummins Battery plant on West Valley View Road for the project is also requested via a zone map change if the comprehensive plan amendment is adopted.

Talent officials have talked about implementing affordable housing for a half-dozen years, but there are no specific criteria yet. Staff have already been in contact with a consultant after the council made clear it wanted consideration of the issue, said interim City Manager Jamie McLeod-Skinner.

Councilor Jason Clark asked at the April 21 meeting whether affordable housing criteria used by another city could be applied to a unit built on the site. He suggested Ashland’s criteria might be used. Councilors decided to table the item to allow for more research.

Some discussion revolving around how an affordable housing unit could be administered has been held with the city, said Amy Gunter with Rogue Planning & Development Services, LLC, which represents the applicant. Oregon law requires criteria for determining such things as income level for occupants, time span of affordability requirements and setting of rental rates.

“It’s difficult to say who will operate it. It’s super complicated. Is it something that can be directed to Jackson County Housing Authority?” asked Gunter. “You’ve got to have clear and objective standards. Without those it gets tricky.”

Talent’s Planning Commission recommended passage of both measures back in January but also said one unit of affordable housing should be included.

Interim Planning Director Dick Converse told the council that city land-use attorney Carrie Connelly had raised concerns about including an affordable housing requirement. “She suggested that it is not a defensible point because we don’t have criteria that speak to it as this point,” said Converse.

“People are not against (affordable housing), but you need to know what the rules are for the long term,” said Gunter. “There is so much that is codified in your codes. Talent doesn’t have any of that stuff.”

A 120-day requirement for a decision that is part of many land-use actions does not apply to the comprehensive plan amendment.

“I hope (councilors) don’t punt it and just wait. There were not enough doors for the people that lived in the Rogue Valley prior to the fire,” said Gunter. She said she hopes the council will allow development to proceed at the pace people are requesting and at the same time make changes to incorporate affordable housing criteria into city code.

Proposed changes for the development would be consistent with the comprehensive plan, which suggests conversion of surplus commercial and industrial land to residential uses.

A housing needs analysis found that Talent has land capacity for 630 new residences, but will need to have 1,272 additional dwelling units over the next 20 years. Another study found that there would be a surplus of 44 acres of commercial land between 2016-2036 given projected growth.

A partnership headed by Evan Archerd owns the property. Access would come from Mountain View Estates Drive on the east side of the acreage. About half of the area is in the Wager Creek flood plain and couldn’t be developed. Townhouses are envisioned to allow for individual ownership.

Recently adopted Talent code updates provide for a wider variety of housing types, such as accessory dwelling units, but did not include criteria for affordable housing due to the additional time that would have been required for development.

“What we need most is affordable housing,” said Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood. “We want to take another bite at that apple.”

Public hearings are on the May 5 council agenda for both amendments. The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. and be held online. Information on access will be available on the city website www.cityoftalent.org.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.