The long wait is nearly over for the $200 million Stewart Meadows Village development on the former KOGAP mill site in south Medford.
The project's pace has been arduous, stalled by recession and then permit complexities. The first phase of the massive makeover at Stewart Avenue and South Pacific Highway calls for reshaping the terrain and rerouting Hansen Creek.
“We’ve had to jump through some long, twisted hoops, but we’re here and ready to proceed,” said Ed Istel, KOGAP Enterprises’ vice president and director of corporate development.
Even so, the casual observer may not see for some time the signs of transformation from a brown field replete with piles of rubble to a multifaceted community sprouting up between Myers Lane and the railroad tracks south of Stewart Avenue.
Survey flags marking Hansen Creek’s future channel dot the grounds of the former industrial site, punctuated by a 50-foot-high mound of asphalt pavement that will be recycled for future residential and commercial elements.
“The permitting process has taken five years, working with the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service," Istel said. "Jumping through those hoops really was an exercise in patience."
A revitalized Hansen Creek, meandering for a half-mile through the development and accented with three ponds, will create a placid contrast to the grating roar of planers and peelers that once filled the surrounding air.
“We were able to create a more robust system,” said Ashland landscape architect Kerry KenCairn. “It may be not what would have been there naturally, but it’s an almost idealized system.”
Rrerouting Hansen Creek, which runs through and under the mill site, requires scraping 6 inches off the surface of the property — roughly 5,000 yards of soil and material that could potentially contain traces of pesticides.
“Then we’ll start cutting the channel,” said Frank McElheran, construction supervisor. “That’ll take three months and then in the spring we’ll plant it and irrigate it. It will grow for a year and then in 2016, we’ll open it up.”
The additional year adds to an already decade-long process, Istel said.
“But it does makes sense,” he added. “If we were to get a heavy flooding event, we wouldn’t want to lose any of the many plants we’re going to put in.”
KenCairn Landscape Architecture of Ashland shepherded KOGAP’s permitting efforts, melding best practices into the design.
“This project is kind of a dream come true,” said KenCairn. “It’s combining restoration and stormwater management. It’s an example of taking a ditch through the property, developing the land so that you have this really cool corridor. Technically, we have to model this section after pieces upstream and downstream in this area. In this case, there aren’t streams that haven’t been altered (because of farming, industrial, commercial or city use).”
For as long as anyone can tell, Hansen Creek’s flow largely has been seasonal; it doesn’t even appear on some maps.
“If it wasn’t for agriculture return flow, it wouldn’t run at all during the summer,” KenCairn said. “It’s a boon for us that we will have a stream with water all of the time.”
Istel said material from the excavated area will fill in the old creek bed and concrete culverts that fed the stream beneath the mill buildings will be removed. Later, streets and a pedestrian bridge will cross over the creek.
The overarching project, designed by ORW Architecture in Medford, calls for 190 residential units above offices and retail space and about 480,000 square feet of commercial space.
After Hansen Creek is rechanneled, Myers Lane — presently a straight shot between Stewart Avenue and Garfield Street on the eastern edge of Stewart Meadows Golf Course — will be rerouted. Myers will curve to the east, and three new streets will meander through the complex, including a roundabout in the center.
Keep Oregon Green and Productive founder Anton Lausmann, followed by his son Jerry Lausmann, operated plywood and veneer plants on the 79-acre site for more than 40 years before the plants were shuttered in April 1993. Jerry Lausmann, who served as the city's mayor from 1986 to 1998, died in 2012.
Istel, Jerry Lausmann's son-in-law, anticipates construction on the project's senior housing to begin in 2017. Additonal residential, office and retail developments will follow.
"To get the old mill site back up and running in some form is exciting," Istel said. "We think it will be a nice addition to the community."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.