No one has ever compared a Wal-Mart supercenter to a “woodsy mountain lodge” — but that’s how one newspaper described Wal-Mart’s makeover plans for a proposed supercenter in Medford, Oregon. On April 26, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that despite the fact that Wal-Mart already had a discount store in Medford on Crater Lake Highway, the company wanted to build a much larger superstore in the city — and shut down their discount store. But more than four years after applying for the supercenter, Wal-Mart still hasn’t crawled out of the hole they dug for themselves. On May 22, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Medford, Oregon City Council had voted 5-1 to overturn an advisory commission’s recommendation, and rejected the proposal to build a 206,500 s.f. Wal-Mart Supercenter on the south end of the city. The Medford Council voted to reverse its Site Plan and Architectural Commission’s decision to approve the Wal-Mart. “It is not compatible with the surrounding area,” said Councilwoman Claudette Moore at the time. But in 2006, the City Council voted to approve the project. In November of 2006, voters in Medford removed from the City Council a developer-friendly incumbent. Citizens reported in January of 2007 that appeals had been raised to the State Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) twice throughout the course of application, and that the LUBA had ruled for the citizens and against the City of Medford, citing procedural errors regarding a full traffic study. The “procedural error” took place in November of 2005, when the City council denied the opposition group, the Medford Citizens for Responsible Development (MCRD), the chance to testify on the comprehensive traffic study. The LUBA ruled in September of 2007 that the city had erred, and the City Council said it would not appeal the 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, said at the time. “The reason the city didn’t allow [residents] to speak was based on city attorney’s advice they weren’t the ones who appealed a previous hearing — they lacked standing.” Wal-Mart, however, appealed the LUBA’s decision. The MCRD said that 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 is 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. When the case came back to the city, its Site Plan and Architectural Commission ruled that Wal-Mart was not required to do a comprehensive traffic study. Wal-Mart opponents warned residents that: “Wal-Mart is back! LUBA ruled in our favor and told the City to do it right this time!… It’s not over! Residents and business owners must urge the City Council to ask Wal-Mart for an adequate traffic study to analyze the impacts of almost 9,000 additional car trips per day in the already congested South Medford I-5 Interchange area. Last year the City Council rejected plans for a 207,000 square-foot Wal-Mart Super Center at Miles Field along Highway 99 at Center Drive. Now after months of secret meetings with city planning staff, Wal-Mart is trying to sneak its huge building into town without an adequate traffic study. After four years, we can’t stop now!” This week, the Mail Tribune reports that the Wal-Mart supercenter is “back on course.” The project needs a zone change from the Planning Commission, from industrial to commercial for a small part of the parcel, and the city’s Architectural Commission holds a hearing in the middle of the day on July 18th regarding a reduction in the size of the store and change to the store’s skin. Wal-Mart is cutting the store by roughly 15%, from 206,500 s.f. to 176,500 s.f. The appearance of the store has been altered from a blue and grey “battleship” style, to something the Tribune described as “a woodsy mountain lodge.” Wal-Mart has also changed the orientation of the huge store. The city’s planner seemed very pleased with the new mountain lodge affect. “It’s certainly more attractive than the blue box,” she said. But the MCRD is not likely to drop its opposition just because Wal-Mart has made some cosmetic changes to the skin of the store. The traffic generated by a 176,500 s.f. store will still have a significant impact on local roads. The city has told the Tribune that it expects the residents will appeal if the city grants Wal-Mart a rezoning and permit to build.
The Medford Citizens for Responsible Development formed to organize opposition to the development, and is a grassroots organization of community residents and business owners working to ensure public involvement in the process. Their goals are to raise awareness of the proposal and organize community involvement in the decision. Concerns include the impact on existing traffic problems, compatibility with adjacent buildings and effects on local business. Since Wal-Mart first submitted an application in 2003, residents and business owners have raised these concerns. Traffic jams and over-development are hot issues in the valley, and local residents are increasingly concerned that City leaders have allowed development at all costs, regardless of impacts to taxpayers, traffic congestion, or local community desires. The opposition group is working to organize pressure on the City Council and Site Plan Committee members, to advocate for an adequate traffic study to analyze the impacts of additional car trips in the already congested Interchange area. Pressure applied to the Medford City Council and Site Plan and Architectural Commission could result in the requirement of traffic studies for all major developments, instead of passing the infrastructure costs to taxpayers. A comprehensive study will identify critical problems with the existing infrastructure, and require the developer to either mitigate the impacts or not be allowed to build. Opponents expect that if a full study is done, traffic engineers will discover that the additional traffic just won’t fit at the old Miles Field property. Readers are urged to email Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Wheeler and City Council, I am hoping that the City Council will not approve the rezoning of the Wal-Mart site, and vote down the cosmetic changes that Wal-Mart is making to the ‘skin’ of its store. It is laughable to call Wal-Mart’s project a ‘woodsy mountain lodge,’ when its bigger than three football fields — not even counting the parking lot. Reducing the superstore size by 15% really is insignificant to the traffic concerns that residents have been raising for four years. And does Medford really want to deal with an empty box when Wal-Mart shuts down its existing store on Crater Lake Highway? This project will not add revenue or jobs to Medford, just another store selling groceries. Most of Wal-Mart’s sales will come from existing merchants. You have an Urban Renewal Agency, and are trying to hold events like a walking tour of your downtown. Building a stand-alone supercenter outside the downtown is working at cross purposes. For 4 long years this project has been presented as a win/lose situation. If Wal-Mart wins, many of the neighbors lose. This is bad land use planning — all caused by the incompatible scale of this project. Please vote against suburban sprawl in your city, and give residents growth they can get excited about. Wal-Mart is building 99,000 s.f. superstores today. Make them get smaller. It’s not how big you grow, but how you grow big, that matters.”