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Developers may be required to hold public meetings

The Medford City Council is eyeing a proposal that would require developers to hold a neighborhood meeting for residents who might be affected by new construction before they could apply for city land-use permits.

A group of southeast Medford residents who have opposed a housing project for recovered substance abusers and their families spurred the proposed ordinance.

Some council members Thursday said community members' limited knowledge of the development process and their lack of awareness of proposed developments is a long-standing problem that needs to be corrected.

Others said neighborhood meetings would give residents a false sense that opinions voiced at the developer-hosted meeting would have some influence on the project.

The Southeast Medford Citizens Organization has been an outspoken critic of the city's approach to notifying neighbors near OnTrack Inc.'s proposed Generations housing project on Harbrooke Road just east of North Phoenix Road.

SEMCO members said the city did not do enough to notify them that the development was intended to house former drug users who are returning to society with their families. The project also would provide housing for seniors who would serve as mentors to the families.

The group asked that the city revise its notification ordinance to make more people aware when a development is proposed and to require a neighborhood meeting on such projects.

"We are interested in having a public meeting so that the neighbors know what's going on," said Bruce Spence, a southeast Medford resident.

As it is now, a public presentation on a development isn't held until a public hearing at the Planning Commission, which also is the point when the commission votes on whether the project will move to the next step.

The council will consider whether to fulfill both of the southeast Medford residents' requests.

Another proposed ordinance would expand notification about a proposed development to a 200-foot radius and at least 75 tax lots. Right now, the requirement is to notify property owners within a 200-foot radius, which may not necessarily include 75 tax lots.

Councilman Dick Gordon said before his election to the council, he tried a few years ago to research information at the city Planning Department about a proposed development near his home along the Cedar Links Golf Course.

"Trying to flip through those files and figure them out was almost impossible," Gordon recalled. "If I was that frustrated, imagine how frustrated an ordinary citizen is."

A neighborhood meeting would give affected residents a chance to learn about a project, ask the developer questions and give their opinions before a public hearing in front of the Planning Commission, Gordon said.

The developer would be required to show proof of the neighborhood meeting before applying for land-use permits, such as a sign-in list, said Bianca Petrou, assistant city planning director.

"I don't see how you can go to a public hearing where you just heard about the project and be able to talk about the project," Gordon said.

Councilman James Kuntz disagreed, saying that a neighborhood meeting hosted by the developer "gives a false sense of being on the record" with the city.

"It sounds like a good idea, but I think it's opening a can of worms," Kuntz said.

The council is not expected to vote on the proposed ordinances for at least two months, Petrou said.

The city's approval of the Generations development is being appealed by the Southeast Medford Citizens Organization.