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Jacksonville gets March date to join growth panel

CENTRAL POINT — A regional planning group wants Jacksonville's City Council to decide by the end of March whether their city is in or out of a cooperative effort to shape growth and development.

Members of Bear Creek Valley Regional Problem Solving's policy committee urged Jacksonville to continue to participate during their Tuesday meeting. They also said it's time for the planning process to move to the next phase, but two key cities, Jacksonville and Ashland, have yet to sign the agreement.

"The cities that have already signed are ready to move ahead," said Kate Jackson, an Ashland councilwoman and chairwoman of the committee.

City councils in Central Point, Eagle Point, Medford, Talent and Phoenix already have signed the agreement. In January the Jacksonville City Council voted not to sign, contending that the appropriate time would be after public hearings have been held.

The Ashland council is scheduled to consider signing the accord at its March 3 meeting.

For the past nine years, RPS has been working to plan Jackson County's growth over the next 50 years. The proposal that has emerged so far would provide enough new land for development to double the valley's current population on only one-third more land than it takes to support the present population. Preservation of community identity and agricultural lands have been among the goals planners tried to achieve.

"Jacksonville is important to the region. It's an asset. We don't want it to be outside the core of this," said Bob Tull, Medford's committee member. "This is the agreement we have come to. We're inviting Jacksonville and Ashland to come to it."

"We want to stay in RPS because we are very concerned about the region as a whole," said Jacksonville Councilwoman Linda Meyers.

Several people at the meeting noted it is not feasible to move to the next stage, which would require amending comprehensive planning documents, while allowing Jacksonville to continue to participate without signing the agreement.

"The county is still nervous about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (on the amendment process) and having someone pull out," said Jackson County Commissioner Dave Gilmour.

John Renz, regional representative for the Department of Land Conservation and Development, said state laws would not allow the process to continue with Jacksonville's participation unless the city signs the agreement.

Proposed language in a modified agreement might address some of Jacksonville's concerns. The new language would give signatories full discretion to review and adopt any draft plans or amendments. In addition, implementing signatories could change their status to supporting within 90 days of adoption of a regional plan by Jackson County.

Representatives from Central Point, Talent and Phoenix said they were not excited about taking possible changes to the agreement back to their city councils.

"I don't want to go back to the council," Central Point Mayor Hank Williams said. "If we don't put it to bed pretty soon we are going to lose the whole process."

Renz said dropping RPS but continuing regional planning would allow agricultural lands that were excluded from urban reserve areas in the current proposal to be reconsidered in a new process. He also said the likelihood of legislative revisions of RPS statutes is uncertain this year.

Committee members tentatively agreed to hold another meeting on March 17.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.