Medford site plan panel approves Wal-Mart store again

Opponents of the planned supercenter at the former Miles Field say the city has erred by not conducting a traffic study

For the third time in four years, the Medford Site Plan and Architectural Commission approved plans to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter at the former Miles Field in Medford, saying the design complies with city ordinances and is compatible with its neighbors.

The approval is contingent upon the Medford Planning Commission allowing a zoning change from industrial to commercial for less than an acre of the 19-acre Wal-Mart property at 1360 Center Drive.

Store opponents said they intend to appeal SPAC's decision to the Medford City Council.

The last approval by the city, challenged by store opponents, was overturned by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals based on a lack of due process to allow residents to speak on the plan.

On Friday, more than a dozen residents spoke for and against the proposed store during a meeting that lasted nearly five hours.

Opponents argued that city staff has erroneously interpreted city code by not requiring Wal-Mart to conduct a comprehensive traffic analysis of surrounding areas that would be affected by the store's presence. Specifically, they are concerned about additional traffic at the busy intersection of Stewart Avenue and Highway 99.

They want Wal-Mart to fund street improvements to accommodate additional traffic the store would attract.

"You do have the authority to change the interpretation made for many years, and we believe it's your responsibility to do so," said Wendy Siporen of the local chapter of Citizens for Responsible Development. "If not, we will have traffic problems that will undermine the quality of life in Medford."

SPAC Chairman Jon Elliott said the commission is responsible only for determining whether the store's entrances and exits at roads are sufficient to handle traffic generated by the business, whether the building is compatible with its neighbors in terms of use and looks and whether the store adheres to city ordinances.

The overall traffic impact to the area should be considered by the Planning Commission only during the course of a proposed zoning change, Elliott said on advice from City Attorney John Huttl.

The Planning Commission is expected to rule Aug. 14 on Wal-Mart's proposed zoning change.

Bruce Bauer of Citizens for Responsible Development and other speakers noted studies indicating that Wal-Mart stores tend to reduce the average retail salaries in the area and drive out small businesses.

"What is this going to do to our downtown?" Bauer asked. "It's going to kill it."

Elliott said the commission is not authorized to consider the company's business practices in its deliberations.

Southwest Medford resident Cheryl Taboada urged SPAC to allow the Wal-Mart plans to move forward, saying it would reduce cross-city traffic bound for the Wal-Mart in north Medford.

The store also would save southwest Medford residents from burning more fuel to reach other Wal-Mart stores in the area, said resident Alene Robertson.

In its approval Friday, SPAC considered two modifications to the original design of the store. The store's new design shrinks the building footprint from 206,500 square feet to 176,500 square feet, a change expected to reduce traffic volumes, city staff said. The building also has been reoriented to face south instead of east, giving a better view of it from Highway 99. Plans for an Express Lube have been scrapped.

Store plans call for entrances at Center Drive and Highway 99. The Oregon Department of Transportation will decide whether access from Highway 99 will be restricted to right turns. Such a decision also would affect neighboring businesses and the Medford Armory.

Wal-Mart hopes to open the south Medford store in 2010 or 2011.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.


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