TALENT — Electric-vehicle maker Brammo's takeover of the former Walmart building here moved forward Wednesday when the City Council approved a conditional-use permit for light manufacturing and a zone change for part of the property.
Sale of the 99,000-square-foot building to Brammo Inc. was announced in July, contingent upon the firm gaining the zoning change and securing the permit. Brammo said the plant would add another 130 jobs to its workforce in the Rogue Valley. The firm's headquarters is in Ashland.
"It's a step closer to actually getting a manufacturing plant there," said Mayor Bill Cecil. "We are all anxious to see that happen."
Research and development capabilities will be expanded with the new site, where the firm plans to assemble its Empulse motorcycle and also may assemble batteries and drive trains.
When the actions become final in 30 days, Brammo will close the sale with Walmart, said Brammo President Craig Bramscher.
"Once we close we will make a few announcements about everything that is going on, but we will try to move as quickly as we can now that we know the zoning was approved," said Bramscher.
The firm has been working with several architects and will announce an architect selection shortly, he said.
No members of the public spoke at the council meeting when Cecil asked for comments on the changes, though Planning Commissioner Darby Stricker said she supported the proposals.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the zone change and permit when it met Oct. 25. No public testimony was offered during that meeting.
A number of concerns about the facility were voiced by neighbors before Brammo worked to educate the public and submitted its application, said city Planning Director Mark Knox. The building lies just north of the Mountain View Estates manufactured home park.
"When it was explained that this is primarily assembly, people realized that would be a good neighbor," said Knox.
Approximately 85 residents from surrounding properties attended a meeting Brammo held at Mountain View's community center Aug. 15 to answer questions.
Twenty-one written comments were received in response to notices sent out by the Planning Department in September to more than 200 adjacent property owners. Twenty of those supported approval, while one raised questions about hours of operations and noise.
Before the council's action, the building straddled two different zoning categories. A 5.7-acre portion in the western part of the 14-acre site had zoning that prohibited light manufacturing. The rest of the site is zoned Commercial Highway, where manufacturing is allowed by permit.
Knox said the zoning should have been corrected when the building's construction was approved in 1993.
Restrictions placed on the site's sale by Walmart were likely meant to discourage any use other than light manufacturing, said Knox.
Those restrictions would bar, for example, retail operations that would compete with Walmart, said Raul Woerner, a consulting planner with CSA Planning, Ltd., which prepared the application for the change and permit.
"Anything that would not reflect well on Walmart would not be allowed," said Woerner.
A drawing of potential exterior modifications to the building shows a three-story glass atrium where the main entrance to Walmart was located, a smaller atrium closer to the former garden area and windows in exterior walls.
The larger of the two atriums would have a mezzanine level and might possibly be extended across the width of the building to let in even more light, said Woerner.
Walmart shuttered the building in August when it opened a new Supercenter in south Medford.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.