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Medford alley-improvement plan under cloud of complaints

A $1 million alley paving project has created an uproar among east Medford neighbors worried they will lose fences, trees, a garage and anything else that stands in the right of way.

"I spent $3,000 on this fence, and now I'm being told it will cost $1,600 to move it," said George Galan, a 32-year-old resident of a neighborhood just east of Crater Lake Avenue and north of Jackson Street.

Galan and 30 other neighbors have signed a petition asking the Medford City Council to consider other options than disrupting the neighborhood by widening and paving the alleys.

"Legally, I guess I don't have a leg to stand on," Galan said. "If push comes to shove, I'll have to move my stuff."

Faced with neighborhood criticism, the council agreed last week to study other options, including possibly compensating property owners for the cost of moving fences or other structures in the right of way. However, the city doesn't normally compensate property owners for right-of-way intrusions.

The city has started to move utilities in advance of the paving project this summer, which is being funded by federal dollars.

Galan's fence was built several years ago in the same area as an older fence, but he discovered the fence, a shed and a couple of his trees extend into city property by about four feet.

Other neighbors have similar problems.

The narrow, gravel alleys are located next to Pearl, Bessie, Effie, Marie, Mae and Mary streets between Jackson and Stevens streets.

To qualify for the federal money, the city needs to widen the alleys to a minimum of 16 feet. The project qualifies for the money because paving alleys lessens the amount of dust generated in the valley, which improves air quality.

Cory Crebbin, public works director, said he's delayed opening the bids for the project until the council provides him with more information on how to proceed.

If the city doesn't follow through on the project, it would lose about $1 million in federal dollars, he said.

Alleys are normally supposed to be 18 feet wide, but the city worked with federal officials to make them 16 feet, Crebbin said.

The city also shifted the alley slightly in places to avoid fences and other structures, where possible.

"We have narrowed up the pavement section and meandered it to minimize the impacts," he said.

Typically, the city requests property owners move anything in the right of way before beginning a project. If the fences aren't moved, the contractor has the right to demolish them.

Neighbors suggested the city invest the money in sidewalks to provide a safe route for children who walk to Hedrick Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary School. However, the federal dollars are designated for alleys, not sidewalks.

A few neighbors have voiced their support for the paving project because it would cut down on dust. Other neighbors worried that cars would speed down the alleys once they were paved.

Some neighbors complained the city hasn't kept them informed, though the city has sent out at least three notices.

"We have yet to see any official word that this is going on," said resident Michael Cady.

The city Public Works Department has sent out 434 letters to property owners and residents. But some properties have changed hands recently, so the new property owners might not have been aware of the issue, city officials said.

Letters from the city pointing out fences in rights of way have been sent to 15 property owners.

The city also requested construction easements from 64 properties to gain extra room for equipment and workers during the project.

The City Council last week indicated it wants to look at other options that aren't as disruptive to the neighborhood.

"If I'd known that 70 percent of the properties were going to be infringed on by this, I would never have voted for this," Councilor Dick Gordon said.

Councilor Tim Jackle suggested that the city might look at compensating some property owners who have to move their fence. The council took no official stance on this suggestion, though.

Some councilors pointed out that the fences and other improvements were located on city property, not private property.

"It's always been public property," Mayor Gary Wheeler said.

Councilor Bob Strosser said that even though the fences are on public property, the council should be wary of taking on a project without considering the needs of the neighborhood.

"If it jeopardizes the funds, it jeopardizes the funds," he said.

Councilor John Michaels suggested neighbors petition the city to vacate the alleys, a process that would turn over ownership to the property owners on each side of the alley. However, the city would no longer maintain the alleys.

"Whatever we try to do, somebody is upset with us," Michaels said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

George Galan says it will cost him $1,600 to move his fence if the city of Medford paves the alley behind his home in east Medford. - Julia Moore