City wants to streamline its street-width regs

Narrow streets must now be widened to allow businesses to locate in older commercial districts

MEDFORD — Great Harvest Bread Co. has been busy since it moved to its new location on narrow Genessee Street in east Medford.

The street is so narrow city engineers debated whether Great Harvest should be required to bring the roadway up to current width standards in front of its new business.

Ultimately, Great Harvest received an exception from the regulations, but not before its owners clawed their way through the city's regulatory maze. Similar issues have popped up so frequently in older commercial districts that city officials are looking for a less cumbersome and shorter process for local businesses.

"It cost us a lot of money and angst," said Lisa Allen, owner.

Allen said one of the reasons she wanted to locate on Genessee is because it is reminiscent of narrow streets in popular business districts in Portland. Since Great Harvest relocated on June 12, another bakery, Buttercloud Bakery and Cafe, also moved in on the same street in the former location of Great Harvest.

Allen said she never expected that widening the street would be a requirement when she bought the property. In order to get the full width required by the city, Allen said she would have had to pay to remove most of her neighbor's front yard across the street. Had the business been forced to make the improvements, the street would have been widened only for the length of her property, with the rest of the street remaining at the narrower width.

City officials will discuss options for simplifying the process at a joint session of the Medford Planning Commission and the Site Plan and Architectural Commission at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 151 of the Lausmann Annex, 200 S. Ivy St., Medford.

Cory Crebbin, Medford public works director, said local ordinances give city staff very little latitude, so they often have no option other than requiring a widening of the roadway.

"What bothers me the most is when people say, 'Public works makes me do this,'" he said. "But, we're just following the city plans and ordinance."

Businesses can still follow work through an exception process with the Site Plan and Architectural Commission and ask for narrower streets, he said.

Medford has chosen to create a system of streets that is more suburban than urban, Crebbin said. As a result, streets are designed to be wide enough to accommodate wide car travel lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks. Narrower, urban-type streets are typically found in cities such as Portland, he said.

Crebbin said there are many narrow streets in Medford in commercial areas or on thoroughfares such as Lozier Lane, which is on track for a $7.5 million widening project.

The meeting will explore whether there's a way to make it easier for businesses to seek an exception to road-widening regulations in existing neighborhoods.

The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County weighed in on the issue with a letter sent Nov. 16 to the city. The chamber wrote that the city errs in treating new and old commercial districts the same in its transportation plan.

The chamber, which cited the struggle Great Harvest faced, urged the city to consider more context-oriented regulations to avoid unnecessary road improvements.

"It will encourage in-fill developments that are good for the city and good for business," the chamber wrote.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email dmann@mailtribune.com.


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