MEDFORD - In 2010 the Housing Authority of Jackson County unveiled plans to build Cherry Creek Apartments. They will be 100 units of new affordable housing on a 6-acre parcel it owned at the corner of Spring and Berkeley Way. They are on the east side of Medford, a city of 75,000 in southern Oregon.
Given the demand for affordable housing, the Authority almost certainly had hoped to start construction right away. The City of Medford estimates that there is “just one affordable apartment for every three households with incomes of 30 percent of median” income.
Jason Elzy, the Authority's Director of Development, told Damian Mann of The Mail Tribune that it “could easily fill an additional 2,500 units because so many families have seen their incomes drop or have been forced to take lower-paying jobs when the economy tumbled.”
But a fast start wasn’t in Cherry Creek’s immediate future. It wasn’t a question of funding. The parcel had been purchased with HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Oregon Housing and Community Services had stepped forward with Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and the Authority committed HUD project-based rental assistance to insure the development’s affordability. And The Medford Planning Commission recommended that the City Council approve the plan.
Cherry Creek, it appeared, was good to go. “Not so fast, replied some of its soon-to-be neighbors. From the start, observed The Mail Tribune editorial board, some residents of the mostly single-family neighborhood cast the Authority as “the villain” and “mounted a vigorous campaign to kill the project” citing concerns about noise and traffic, a loss of parkland and declining property values.
Their voices were heard loud and clear. In a 3-2 vote the City Council rejected the Planning Commission’s recommendation, arguing that the parcel wasn’t supposed to be zoned multi-family housing. Cherry Creek, it appeared, was dead.
The Authority stood its ground, successfully appealing the Council’s decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. They ruled that the Council had, said The Legal Journal, “improperly construed the applicable law” in its action.
The Authority didn’t stop there. Seeking “common ground and a solution,” in late 2011 it sent letters to 330 residents of the affected are, noting it would “be happy” to consider changes in the project’s design. “We’re reaching out to the opponents and the people in the neighborhood,” said the Authority’s Elzy, urging them “to come back to the table.”
Turns out it was an invitation well worth accepting. Within weeks, the Authority offered an alternative approach. They proposed to cut the number of units at Cherry Creek in half and donate 2.5 of its six acres to expand Donahue-Frohnmayer Park.
They also would be providing the City with $279,000 to cover the cost of developing the donated parcel. In return, the City provided a parcel it owned on Grape Street downtown where the Authority could build the other 50 units.
In the spring of 2013, three years later than the Authority had hoped, ground was broken for Cherry Creek. Work proceeded quickly and the units were ready for occupancy in early 2014. Demand was strong. "This entire complex was filled when we opened the wait list two months ago," Elzy told Mann at the opening.
Darlene Anderson, a former New Yorker who had lived “just across the street” from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, was one of those lucky enough to get a spot at Cherry Creek. She misses New York but she likes Cherry Creek “very much. It’s a godsend,” she said.
Once drawn, battle lines are hard to erase. And it takes brave souls to step across them, to seek common ground, to agree to compromise. "This is not a perfect solution for any one party,” Elzy said at the November, 2012 Council meeting that approved the compromise. “But it's a good compromise."
Good enough, at least, to achieve a common good and, obviously, to expand a community’s affordable housing inventory. Welcome news, indeed, to the many that need it.
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