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Retaining structure draws neighbors' ire

An empty, foreclosed house leaked enough water to start a small landslide and then opened up a can of worms for residents of an east Medford neighborhood.

The new owner of the three-story home, Chris McIntosh, is building a $50,000 plant-covered retaining wall to prevent any more earth from slipping toward Lazy Creek.

But while McIntosh says he's helping improve the site, alarmed neighbors on Murryhill Court have objected to the massive retaining wall that replaced the unsightly landslide that washed away a portion of McIntosh's driveway.

"It's a big, ugly wall," said neighbor Art Purcilly. "It looks like the L.A. River."

McIntosh, who is trying to right all the wrongs done to the house by its previous tenants, said the wall will look nice once vegetation grows in through the porous material used to create the barrier.

"It'll look a lot better when it's done," he said.

The neighbors' angst deepened, however, when Medford officials pointed out during the permitting process that the city has a right-of-way through McIntosh's driveway and onto the next two adjacent parcels to build an access road for a sewer line. The trouble is the other neighbors have put in lawns, trees and fences along the right-of-way, which borders the creek.

"It goes right across all their landscaping," Purcilly said. His son is one of the property owners affected by the right-of-way. Purcilly lives down the street.

Cory Crebbin, Medford public works director, said a gravel road used to traverse the properties so city workers could reach a sewer manhole.

"That road was obliterated as the houses were built," he said. "The access shouldn't be a surprise to anyone because it was properly recorded."

Meanwhile, McIntosh appeared puzzled that neighbors are dismayed by the repairs on a house that was sadly neglected. He bought the house for $125,000 in August. Of course, that relatively cheap price has been eaten up by extensive repairs, including dealing with mold and water damage in the sprawling house.

McIntosh spent some time determining where the leak was coming from that caused the landslide, finally narrowing it down to a pipe running alongside the house.

In addition, the previous tenants had damaged tiles and walls. Beams that support a balcony are sagging because the builder of the 2005 house put in undersized lumber for support. Other improvements to the house were made without permits, including the installation of a sink in a bedroom.

McIntosh opted for a more expensive and more high-tech retaining wall that he said could support far greater pressure than put on it in his project.

Dave Bish of Plant Oregon, who was installing the retaining wall, said he has to stay 8 feet away from the creek to avoid more oversight by state officials as he works on the project.

The wall is a wire mesh material that is anchored into layers of soil that have been compacted. Roots from plants will help further bond the mesh layers together.

To the casual observer, the wall doesn't look finished because it doesn't need concrete to cover the wire mesh, though plants will eventually fill it in.

"It's definitely not gorgeous, but the landslide wasn't either," said Bish.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

Dave Bish of Plant Oregon works on a $50,000 retaining wall built to prevent the soil from falling into Lazy Creek in east Medford. The wall will one day sprout vegetation, but neighbors say it is massive and unsightly. - Bob Pennell