Four years and counting. That’s the sad story for a Wal-Mart supercenter proposal in the city of Medford, Oregon. The city council eventually approved the project — but the legal persistence of local residents has prevented any work from proceeding on the store. On May 22, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Medford City Council had overturned an advisory commission’s recommendation, and rejected a proposal to build a 207,000 s.f. Wal-Mart Supercenter in the south end of the city. The Medford Council voted 5-1 to reverse the Site Plan and Architectural Commission’s April 2 decision to approve the Wal-Mart. That was nearly three and a half years ago, but Wal-Mart is still in the mix in Medford. Since Wal-Mart first submitted an application in 2003, residents and business owners have raised concerns including the impact on existing traffic problems, compatibility with adjacent buildings and effects on local business. Medford Citizens for Responsible Development (MCRD) is a grassroots organization working to ensure public involvement in local development decisions, and has organized formidable opposition to the Wal-Mart development for four years now. Residents have been concerned that City leaders have historically allowed development at all costs, regardless of impacts to taxpayers, traffic congestion, or local community desires. Appeals have been raised to the State Land Use Board of Appeals twice throughout the course of the application, and LUBA ruled against the City of Medford, citing procedural errors in avoiding the full traffic study. The “procedural error” that took place in November of 2005, was when the City council denied MCRD the chance to testify on the comprehensive traffic study. The LUBA ruled September 14th that the city had erred, and this week, in response, the City Council has said it will not to appeal LUBA’s decision. “I think the land use process is a complicated process, a bunch of hoops and hurdles you have to jump through. Its set up to give all the protections in the world to protect both the property owners and the neighboring property owners and do things right,” Medford city councilman, Jason Anderson, told KTVL television. “The reason the city didn’t allow [residents] to speak [was] based on city attorneys advice they weren’t the ones who appealed a previous hearing — they lacked standing.” The City Council now has to schedule more public hearings on the project. Wal-Mart, however, has a week from today to decide whether or not they will appeal LUBA’s decision.
The LUBA ruled that the city was incorrect when it denied Medford Citizens for Responsible Development the right to speak at the November 2005 hearing. The city’s attorney argued that MCRD did not have legal “standing” to participate because it failed to file a brief during a 2004 LUBA appeal. MCRD says Wal-Mart should be required to conduct a comprehensive traffic study for the site. The group says this study will show that additional traffic mitigation will be needed, and Wal-Mart will be financially responsible for those roadway improvements. Wal-Mart says they can’t be forced to do a comprehensive study by the city, because one was already done 16 years ago when the land was rezoned. Readers are urged to email Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler and members of the city council at: [email protected] with this message: “Medford already has a Wal-Mart on Crater Lake Highway, and you’ve got a supercenter roughly ten miles away in Eagle Point. Another Wal-Mart does nothing for you economically, except close a few existing grocery stores. Make Wal-Mart do all the necessary traffic studies — but remember you can say No if the traffic congestion causes adverse impacts.”