Ashland council hears future plans from 2 groups

Oct. 4—Two groups working on unrelated plans for Ashland's future presented ideas to City Council during a study session Monday, one centered on the Croman Mill District, the site of a former timber mill in south Ashland that closed in 1996, and the other from ECONorthwest, a firm specializing in economic research.

Townmakers LLC presented a vision to Ashland City Council of a reimagined Croman Mill District — an idyllic live, work, play community both planned and organic. Middle-income housing, from small apartment complexes to miniature cottages and alleyways or over-garage units were proposed in a kind of tartan pattern, with small business spaces, community gathering areas, coworking spaces and light manufacturing — all within a five-minute walk of one's home on easy-to-navigate streets.

Mayor Julie Akins pressed the staff of Townmakers for a cost estimate for the housing and was told supply would help bring down costs, but otherwise it was too early to estimate.

Councilor Stephen Jensen and City Manager Joe Lessard asked about timelines and were told it was too early to say. Councilor Stephen Moran asked for quarterly reports from the group as it progressed in its vision.

Townmakers has been in talks to buy the Croman Mill site for the past year and, as part of these negotiations with Dwaine & Bud LLC (owners of the site), has been working to create a plan for the district, according to council meeting materials.

ECONorthwest presented information to the council from a yearlong survey it has completed on economic opportunities for the city of Ashland.

According to meeting materials, the survey was commissioned by Ashland Chamber of Commerce.

ECONorthwest told the council the city's population is slanted toward seniors and away from families, with fewer children in Ashland than other cities its size. The firm advised the council to expand its number and variety of tourists, improve opportunities for small businesses and, with increased economic opportunity, create more affordable housing and expand its population.

Parts of the city could use more opportunities for fun, such as a roller-skating rink or an arcade where Ashland Street Cinema used to be, the group said.

Events combining food and music have proven popular in other cities and might be a good model to employ downtown, the group said.

Downtown and the university district would be a focus for potential new plans to bring more fun and activity to Ashland, but the Croman Mill District and the south side of town would be areas of attention, as well.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.