A cloud has developed over a proposal to build a WalMart store in south Medford after the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ruled this week that the city of Medford needs to complete a traffic study of the project.
LUBA agreed with Medford Citizens for Responsible Development, who argued that Medford's own municipal development code requires a transportation analysis for a development of the WalMart's size.
"It's a big win, and we're happy with it," said Rich Rohde, of Medford Citizens.
Rohde said his interpretation of the LUBA ruling means the city must either complete the traffic study or rewrite its development code and then have WalMart file a new plan for its proposed 175,000-square-foot store at the site of the old Miles Field.
"The easy step would be to do a traffic study, and that's what we've been asking for five years," Rohde said.
WalMart spokeswoman Karianne Fallow said the company was disappointed with the ruling.
"In tough economic times we don't believe it's appropriate to turn away any job opportunities or deprive families of an opportunity to stretch their dollars," Fallow said.
LUBA's 16-page ruling centered on the single legal issue of transportation impacts, specifically, whether a traffic study needed to be completed and whether a development could be prohibited if it would prove too disruptive for traffic on local streets.
Rohde said that if the city didn't require a traffic impact analysis, it would ultimately fall on the citizens of Medford to fix the problem by improving intersections in the future.
"Without that traffic study and with future failures of those intersections, it will be the taxpayer paying for it, not WalMart," he said.
Fallow said WalMart made a "great effort to create an ideal store for Medford shoppers" by reconfiguring the plan to meet local requests. She said the traffic study WalMart provided was adequate, "and we don't believe we should be treated differently from any other development."
She said WalMart executives would review the LUBA decision to decide what to do next.
Rohde said that the intersection of Highway 99 and Stewart Avenue already is congested, and a WalMart would only worsen traffic. He said the traffic analysis would identify the problems that a WalMart could have on local transportation.
Medford councilman Jim Kuntz said he sharply disagreed with LUBA's ruling.
"I'm in favor of appealing it," he said.
Kuntz said rewriting the code or preparing a traffic study would set a bad precedent and could prove costly for any new business that wanted to locate in Medford.
A traffic study would cost $10,000 to $50,000, he said. "That will cripple business in Medford," he said. "This decision will affect future development."
He said rewriting the code doesn't make sense because that would require WalMart to file a new application.
"That's unfair," he said.
Kuntz said he was curious why LUBA didn't bring up this legal problem over traffic during other appeals on the WalMart application.
Councilman Bob Strosser said he worried about the WalMart project's effects on traffic from the beginning of the application process.
"I had concerns about not doing a traffic study," he said. "My concern is good planning, no matter what the entity is."
Strosser said he sent a letter to the council several years ago warning that the traffic in that area would not only be affected by a WalMart, but also could threaten traffic around the $70 million investment in the south Medford interchange that is currently under construction.
"I am unwilling in this matter to ignore that which seems quite evident in the need to study traffic for the overall benefit of our community," he stated.
City Attorney John Huttl said he would discuss the city's options at the City Council's noon meeting today, but declined to comment.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.