Medford family center proposal hits bump over traffic flow

Project to build early-education site needs traffic study to comply with zone shift rule

A family center proposed to be built next to Kids Unlimited has hit a roadblock with city officials who say the project needs a traffic study before it can proceed.

"The project has gone through an emotional roller coaster," said Tom Cole, executive director for the popular children's program.

Kids Unlimited, the Family Nurturing Center and OnTrack have joined forces to build a 3,600-square-foot center at 533 Austin St., near Riverside Drive to provide early-education programs for underprivileged children.

The project would require a zone change from residential to commercial on the property, which is adjacent to the parking lot of Kids Unlimited.

The Medford Public Works Department has determined the building could generate up to 622 daily vehicle trips, far above the threshold of 250.

As a result, a traffic study would be required.

Kids Unlimited has appealed the decision to the City Council, which could make a ruling at noon, today, in City Hall, 411 W. Eighth St.

Kids Unlimited in April 2012 secured a community-development grant for $133,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the city of Medford to purchase the Austin Street building.

The "Project Hope" property was in foreclosure and ultimately ended up being donated by Bank of America, which freed up the federal funds to be used for the construction of the educational center.

Cole said the project appeared to be going full-steam ahead until it ran into some planning issues.

The Public Works Department found the project as proposed by Kids Unlimited would likely not develop more than 250 vehicle trips a day. But, because of the way the code reads, the department has to anticipate the maximum number of trips per day that are possible under a commercial zoning designation.

Cole said the center would provide therapeutic help to children as they work through emotional and behavioral issues resulting from broken homes or from parents struggling with addiction problems. Other classrooms would provide instruction to get the children ready for kindergarten.

"Right now, these kids are entering into kindergarten and they're not ready to learn," Cole said.

The idea is to reach children at the earliest possible age so they don't fall behind once they enter school, he said. The goal is to help break the cycle of poverty and give children a new path in life, Cole said.

"It's a pretty monumental shift in the way we want to deal with that neighborhood," Cole said.

Kids Unlimited hopes it can work with the city to avoid spending money on an expensive traffic study. It would rather invest those funds on the building and program to directly benefit children, Cole said.

Chuck Martinez, board member with Kids Unlimited, said he hopes the City Council can find a way through the code to avoid a traffic study.

"We have a great relationship with the city," he said.

Martinez said Kids Unlimited has offered to sign an agreement with the city that it would not exceed the traffic volumes.

Martinez said Kids Unlimited tries to stretch its money as far as possible so that it can invest in new programs that will improve the community.

"We're just trying to save money and be efficient with the resources we have," he said.

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


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