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Rogue Valley cities seek input on 'climate friendly areas' at open house Thursday

Looking across the street at a nine-story cream-colored hotel building with lots of ornamentation on the outside
Jes Burns
The Ashland Springs Hotel in Ashland. The new climate friendly rules will encourage mixed use buildings, more public spaces and reduced parking requirements.

Several cities in the Rogue Valley are hosting an open house Thursday night about new rules to promote walkable communities.

Oregon’s metropolitan areas are required to develop standards to encourage walkable communities under state rules adopted last year.

The cities of Medford, Talent and Ashland are presenting a series of possible locations for these so called ‘climate friendly areas,’ which are designed to reduce reliance on cars.

To achieve those goals, cities will develop new zoning requirements for these areas that encourage higher density, mixed use buildings, reduce minimum parking space requirements and improve pedestrian, bicycle and public transit access.

These development standards should be fully adopted by cities by the end of 2024.

“I think it’s really just trying to reduce the single occupancy vehicle, trying to get people out of their cars and being able to live and work in a neighborhood," said Medford Principal Planner Carla Paladino.

Paladino said for a city the size of Medford, the rules say at least a third of current and future housing will need to be located in a climate friendly area. She said that accounts to around 145 acres of existing metro area.

Paladino said they’re considering three possible locations – including the downtown district – to apply this designation. She said downtown Medford already meets many of the climate friendly area requirements.

Medford is part of a group of Oregon cities that aresuing the state over these rules. The suit argues the new rules are counterproductive to state climate goals, and could encourage developers to build homes in smaller bedroom communities outside larger cities, thereby increasing vehicle commutes.

Paladino said the city is still moving forward with the state rulemaking even though they're involved in the lawsuit.

Ashland Senior Planner Derek Severson said their city’s current planning methods call for an additional 850 new housing units by 2041. He said these state rules would encourage more than quadruple that number of homes being built in the city.

“This climate friendly requirement would call for Ashland to do about 3,500 units in these newly identified climate friendly areas over the same time," he said.

In Ashland, Severson said they're considering four areas for this designation, including two undeveloped parts of the city at the Croman Mill site and in the Railroad district.

The open house takes place Thursday night at 6 p.m. at the Talent Community Center. Residents can learn more about what these changes will mean for future development, and offer feedback on proposed locations in Medford, Ashland and Talent.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.