CENTRAL POINT — Easing congestion on local roads and reducing a quarter-million pounds of emissions from the Rogue Valley sky seemed a good enough reason for Combined Transport to move its operations to a site near the Blackwell Road freeway exit.

CENTRAL POINT — Easing congestion on local roads and reducing a quarter-million pounds of emissions from the Rogue Valley sky seemed a good enough reason for Combined Transport to move its operations to a site near the Blackwell Road freeway exit.

Before the Great Recession derailed many of its customers, the flatbed trucking firm was nearing capacity at its 15-acre Crater Lake Avenue headquarters terminal. As the company's growth escalated through the mid-2000s, President Mike Card began looking for a new location to counter increasingly clogged roads, heightened emissions concerns and soaring fuel costs.

In 2007, Combined Transport acquired 16 acres northeast of the freeway at the exit just north of Central Point. Although the land was zoned exclusive farm use, its proximity to the freeway seemed to favor a zone change and Card believed approval could be won in two or three years.

"It was the perfect spot to move our business and trucks and put us right by the freeway," Card said. "But getting the property rezoned has been one expensive nightmare."

The quandary Card encountered is that the property lies beyond Central Point's city limits and even if Jackson County approved a zoning change, the decision could be challenged before the state Land Use Board of Appeals and go unresolved for years.

"It took us years to work out an agreement with ODOT about getting trucks on and off the property safely, and I think we have good plan with ODOT now," Card said. "A zone change could be challenge because there is other available land all over the valley. But there is none by the freeway and no flexibility to ease the situation."

Combined Transport employs 450 people and operates 400 trucks — down from 500 four years ago — across 48 states and Canada. By moving from Crater Lake Avenue to the freeway, Card estimates, his trucks would travel 50,000 fewer miles annually between the north Medford freeway interchange, Vilas Road and Highway 62.

"It's a seven-mile round trip from the freeway to our yard," Card said. "We could eliminate those miles. Even though we run the latest, cleanest-burning engines, there are still pollutants. We could reduce our emissions by a quarter-million pounds of carbon dioxide."

Even so, some of the Rogue Valley's most fertile soil surrounds Central Point and farmland proponents are wary of additional zoning changes. That caused Jackson County planners to caution Card that his plan could face some roadblocks.

Craig Anderson, a senior planner with county, said he talks with people interested in zoning changes of agricultural or timber land a couple of times a month, on average. Anderson said the county planners try to be honest with the potential applicants by warning them of the issues — and associated expense — they could face.

"That land being prime farmland and given the nature of the application and potential impact," Anderson said, "if the commissioners approved the change, one could reasonably expect an organization or neighboring property owners would appeal the decision."

Card said he isn't sure about his next move.

"We wanted to move forward this year, thinking the process would take a year, followed by a year to develop and we'd be ready in maybe three years."

Card said the company desperately needs to find a larger site.

"We're totally out of room to park our trucks," he said.

He said city's and county's hands are tied because they don't have the money to pay for required environmental and economic studies involved in zoning changes or boundary extensions.

"We're waiting for someone to come up with a solution," he said. "Central Point can't afford the economic and housing studies to extend boundaries. ... If I pay for it, it's almost $50,000 for an economic study."

Combined already has committed to rebuild the frontage road entering the property.

At the county Planning Department, Anderson said Card's situation has parallels to ODOT's effort to build a rest area between mileposts 12 and 13 near Ashland.

"They filed with us in 2007 and it's in its fifth year of appeals going back and forth between LUBA and the county," Anderson said. "If I was a property owner I might look at that as an example. It takes time and you have to hire a lawyer to represent you at LUBA. It's a very expensive process. We're not trying to discourage them, but we want to make sure they know what they will face or potentially face."

Beyond that, land-use exception criteria for planning goals is very specific, Anderson said. "By its nature, it's subjective."

Because of the complexity of the state's land-use laws, what seems like an open-and-shut case can turn out to be something entirely different.

"Nobody likes that process really, because it doesn't give you any certainty," Anderson said. "If you go into an application knowing it's stirring up opposition you'll want to consider that, because time is money."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.