A reluctant City Council rejected a request from Kids Unlimited to forgo a required traffic study for a proposed education center.
Kids Unlimited, the Family Nurturing Center and OnTrack Inc. have joined forces to build a 3,600-square-foot center at 533 Austin St. to provide early-education programs for underprivileged children. The center would be adjacent to Kids Unlimited.
The council voiced support for the goals of the three organizations but didn't want to show favoritism by allowing them to avoid what officials consider an important aspect of city code.
"I don't think it's appropriate for the City Council to waive the code because we like somebody," Councilor Dan Bunn said.
Councilors Al Densmore and Chris Corcoran voted against requiring Kids Unlimited to seek a traffic study. As a result, the issue will come back for a second reading.
The project would require a zoning 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 commercial zoning would allow up to 622 daily vehicle trips, far above the threshold of 250.
As a result, a traffic study would be required based on language adopted to strengthen the code after Walmart avoided a traffic study for its south Medford store.
Chuck Martinez, a board member with Kids Unlimited, said his organization would sign an agreement with the city to limit the vehicle trips to fewer than 250.
Typically, the city requires a traffic study first, then considers an agreement to limit the number of vehicles.
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 construction of the educational center.
Martinez estimated a traffic study could cost from $5,000 to $25,000.
He said the three organizations have buses that transport children and their parents, which would minimize the number of vehicle trips. Also, many of the families live within walking distance of Kids Unlimited, Martinez said.
Councilor John Michaels said the cost of the traffic study would take a big bite out of the grant available to help build the education center.
"I have the greatest respect for all that the organization does and what they will be doing," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.