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RPS growth plan may swallow local lands

Historic Hillcrest Orchard stretches out over 271 acres of rolling hills striped with rows of pear trees and grape vines.

That could change dramatically in the future under a regional plan that would allow the land to become a high-density residential area with a town center off Foothill Road, according to an analysis of future growth prepared by Medford's planning staff.

Likewise, Centennial Golf Course could be surrounded by homes under future expansion plans of the Rogue Valley Manor.

These are some of the changes proposed under a regional planning effort that sets the stage for development in the next 50 years to handle an anticipated doubling of the population.

The City Council will hold a study session today to analyze Medford's part in this more than 10-year planning effort known as Regional Problem Solving.

A final public hearing on the plan will be held by the City Council on Aug. 16, though a time hasn't been set yet.

If the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission approves of the plan in November, it will set the framework for how Medford and other communities will develop in the future.

Medford could potentially add 6,287 acres, of which 4,410 would be residential and the remaining acreage would be Prescott and Crissy parks.

Most of the future growth areas targeted for Medford will occur on the east side of Interstate 5.

Less development would occur between Jacksonville and Medford because the areas have some of the best agricultural soils in the valley. In addition, the agricultural lands would act as a buffer between Medford and Jacksonville.

Hillcrest Orchard is nearly surrounded by subdivisions, which made it a prime candidate for a future addition to the city.

Orchards have been grown on the land since the 1880s. Seventy acres of vines now provide grapes for RoxyAnn Winery.

The orchard, started in 1908, is one of the oldest family orchards in the valley. It was originally purchased by Reginald H. Parsons and Maude Bemis Parsons.

The Rogue Valley's most renowned architect, Frank C. Clark, designed the Parsons' home. The orchard was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

A representative from Hillcrest Orchard could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

John Adams, a Medford planner, said he has seen only general concepts for development of Hillcrest.

"This is the kind of thing that people hold close to the vest," he said.

With the economy still in a slump, Adams doesn't expect many developers to come forward with more concrete plans in the near future.

In the early years of the regional planning effort, developers were pushing to get the process completed quickly.

"That sort of thing has really slacked off," he said. "A lot of pressure to get this done immediately has fallen away."

Even after approval of the RPS, developers would still be required to take other steps before they could pursue plans to develop these tracts of land marked for future expansion.

The largest tract of land the city could potentially annex is 1,748 acres in southeast Medford, with Centennial Golf Course taking up 425 acres, according to a city analysis of the expansion plans.

Pacific Retirement Services, the parent company of the Rogue Valley Manor, has already sought approval for an urban growth boundary expansion from the city for an "active adult retirement community" around the golf course.

Councilman Dick Gordon said he hasn't received many complaints about the RPS, but he's received letters from landowners on the west side of Medford wondering how they could be included.

Gordon said he thinks the process is too far along to make changes.

"But I want to be sure that we can make minor adjustments if we have made mistakes in our selection of lands," he said.

Gordon said the land chosen for future expansion is the result of many years of hard work.

"This has been going on too long, and we just need to make it happen," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email dmann@mailtribune.com.

Hillcrest Orchard in east Medford could become an area of high-density residential housing under Regional Problem Solving, a 10-year planning process to accommodate an anticipated doubling of the population in 50 years. - Bob Pennell