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Medford’s downtown could grow

file photo City officials could expand a downtown business zone to bring high-density housing projects.

Medford officials could expand a downtown business zone to help attract much needed high-density housing projects.

“We see a lot of interest in the development community for housing around the downtown,” said Harry Weiss, executive director of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency. “There is a huge need.”

The MURA Board, made up of city councilors, agreed last Thursday to proceed with seeking approval from the Medford Planning Commission to bring three large properties just north of Fourth Street into the so-called Central Business Overlay, which extends from Fourth to 10th streets, and from North Oakdale Avenue to just beyond Riverside Avenue.

The overlay, which is a sort of zone or district that designates the downtown, allows for more flexibility in projects. Downtown developments don’t have height restrictions, allow for unlimited density and don’t require off-street parking.

The downtown zone currently ends at Fourth Street, but Budge McHugh Plumbing Supply has a property on the other side of Fourth and wants to market that property to developers.

Likewise, Pallet Wine along Fir Street would also like its property included. Another group of properties just to the north of Pallet would also like to be included in the downtown zone.

Budge McHugh also owns properties located at the former Habitat for Humanity location on Fir Street, across the street from the Mail Tribune. These properties are inside the downtown zone.

Weiss said Pallet Wine is currently enlarging its barrel storage facilities and has long-range plans to continue its expansion efforts.

Weiss said MURA could seek other expansions of the downtown zone in the future.

“This is the kind of thing from a regulatory point of view that enhances their marketability,” he said.

Many councilors expressed an interest in continuing to pursue an urban pathway in the area where the expansion of the downtown zone is proposed.

“I do love the idea of the urban bikeway,” Councilor Sarah Spansail said.

Councilor Kevin Stine wondered why MURA was looking at expanding into these three properties rather than incorporating a larger swath of properties outside the downtown zone.

“Since it’s map-making season, we’re gerrymandering three units into this,” he said.

In response to Stine at the meeting, Weiss said there had been discussions about going all the way to Jackson Street and over to Central.

However, getting approval from that many property owners would be a substantial process, he said.

In this case, three business have approached the city directly and have asked to be included in the downtown zone, Weiss said.

Eventually the city may need to look at expanding to Jackson, but Weiss thought it better to do it incrementally as property owners express interest.

But Councilor Eric Stark said, “I think we should look at expanding the central business district.”

City staff indicated it would be difficult to communicate with so many property owners and thought it better to wait until property owners approached the city.

“These (three) property owners want to move ahead,” said Kelly Madding, deputy city manager.

She said the city would have to provide information to other property owners explaining the benefits of becoming a part of the downtown district.

MURA board members voiced support for including the three properties

“I see, especially the Budge property, huge potential for something to happen there,” Councilor Tim D’Alessandro said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.