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2008-08-23
Medford, OR. Citizen Appeal Of Wal-Mart Called ‘No Surprise.’

Wal-Mart has a discount store on Crater Lake Highway in Medford, Oregon. But the company has been trying to replace it with a larger supercenter for more than four years. On May 22, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Medford City Council had reversed a decision by an advisory commission, and rejected a proposal to build a 206,500 s.f. Wal-Mart Supercenter on the south side of the city. The Medford Council voted 5-1 to reverse the Site Plan and Architectural Commission's decision to approve the Wal-Mart. "It is not compatible with the surrounding area," said Councilwoman Claudette Moore. "I believe the burden of proof for compatibility has not been met," added Councilman Jim Kuntz. But Wal-Mart did not give up in Medford. 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 of the 2006 approval had been taken 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... 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!" The project needs a zone change from the Planning Commission, from industrial to commercial for a small part of the parcel. Wal-Mart cut 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 Mail Tribune described as "a woodsy mountain lodge." 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 said the traffic generated by a 176,500 s.f. store will still have a significant impact on local roads. The city told the Tribune that it expects the residents will appeal if the city grants Wal-Mart a rezoning and permit to build. This week, the citizen's made their move. Their legal appeal to the City Council was filed by Wendy Siporen, a member of Medford Citizens for Responsible Development. The appeal charges that the city's Site Plan and Architectural Commission and city staff misinterpreted city code by allowing the plan to move forward without a comprehensive traffic impact analysis. A Wal-Mart spokesman said the appeal "did not come as a surprise."

What you can do: The appeal now goes to the City Council on September 18th. Attorney Kenneth Helm of Beaverton, Oregon, who represents the citizens, says that a traffic study should be conducted for any new development that impacts arterial and collector roads. The city says a traffic study is only needed if a zone change is involved. But Wal-Mart did ask for a zone change -- on a small part of the property -- but a zone change nonetheless. The city says a traffic study is needed only if the zone change involves more than 250 vehicle trips a day -- which this project does. "The code says you should do a traffic impact analysis at the time of development, not 10 to 15 years ago during the last zone change," Helm said. The Oregon LUBA in 2005 required the city to show that a comprehensive traffic study was not required by code -- but the city never responded, the citizens charge. "The opponents are union groups and people who don't live in the city of Medford," a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Tribune. "Approval was unanimous by the Planning Commission and the Site Plan and Architectural Commission. We are proud of our plan. We have hundreds of supporters in the city limits who back us on this." The Medford Citizens for Responsible Development are concerned about the impact of this project 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. A comprehensive traffic 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 Mayor@ci.medford.or.us with the following message: "Dear Mayor Wheeler and City Council, I am hoping that the City Council will overturn the decision of the Site Plan and Architectural Commission regarding the Wal-Mart site. This store is bigger than three football fields -- not counting the parking lot. 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. This project needs a full traffic study. It will generate far more than 250 vehicle trips per day. Do the study now -- don't wait for a court to tell you to do it ."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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