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Medford will move ahead with controversial alley paving

The city of Medford is moving forward with a plan to pave nearly a dozen alleys in an east Medford neighborhood, fearing it may lose about $1.2 million in federal grant money if the project continues to be pushed back by neighborhood opposition.

Medford City Council voted 4-3 Thursday in favor of moving forward with bidding on the $1.4-million project that must be completed before Oct. 31. More than a dozen residents in the area will be forced to remove improvements that encroach into the public right-of-way.

"This comes up time after time when, through whatever mechanism, building from the private side has been built on city-owned property," said Councilor Bob Strosser. "It always creates a problem. The reality is everyone needs to be very careful about where improvements are sited or located. ... It's a tough situation, but, for everybody, the takeaway is: Please make sure that you don't build on city property."

The 11 narrow, gravel alleys to be paved are adjacent to Pearl, Bessie, Effie, Marie, Mae and Mary streets between Jackson and Stevens streets, east of Crater Lake Avenue.

Strosser, was joined by councilors Daniel Bunn, Eli Matthews and John Michaels in voting to allow the Oregon Department of Transportation to open the project for bidding on May 15.

Councilors Dick Gordon, Tim Jackle and Karen Blair voted to postpone the project to allow more time for communication between affected residents and the city; Councilor Chris Corcoran was absent.

Public Works Director Cory Crebbin said delaying the project further could have resulted in the city losing the $1,183,539 federal grant it obtained to foot most of the bill.

Losing that money would likely kill the project and waste about $250,000 the city has already invested in design time, right-of-way appraisers and construction easements.

"I think it's important to note the extensive amount of work staff has done to try and mitigate the harm we're doing to people with private improvements," said Bunn. "There are 84 people encroaching on the right of way, and we're only affecting 15 of them. I don't think the desire to provide additional communication should force us to delay the bid opening and risk losing the federal funds."

The city was able to limit the number of property owners affected by snaking the required 16-feet-wide alleys between improvements built on city-owned property, but conflict was unavoidable in some cases, Crebbin said.

"I am very concerned about additional expense that these folks are going to have, for anybody who has something is the right of way," said Gordon. "I would prefer that we delay this issue another two weeks with the intent to give staff more of an opportunity to deal with these folks."

The city was able to secure the grant by making the case that paving the alleys would lessen the amount of dust generated in the valley, which improves air quality.

"It makes no sense," said Scott Rule, whose Marie Street property will be affected by the paving project.

Because city surveyors determined about 41/2 feet of the concrete deck of Rule's backyard in-ground swimming pool and the length of his wooden fence were built on city-owned property, the pool deck will have to be have to be cut off and moved, along with the fence.

"The whole issue is about the dust, but none of us ever complained about dust," Rule said. "Don't you think I, with a swimming pool in my backyard, would have complained about too much dust?

"If it was about dust, just pave the alley. ... It's not about dust, it's about getting the free money."

To qualify for the federal grant money, the alleys have to be at least 16 feet wide, which is 2 feet narrower than the city typically requires, Crebbin said.

Rule has building permits signed by city officials from 1984 for the pool and 1993 for the fence, both of which were constructed before he purchased the property, but the permits won't save the improvements.

According to city policy, "determination of the front property line (public right-of-way line) is ultimately the responsibility of the property owner, and the city assumes no liability for the information it provides."

"The city doesn't care what the people want, the city is going to do what they want," Rule said.

Rule and his neighbor, Dave Swaney, both signed a petition circulating in the neighborhood asking the City Council to consider options other than disrupting the neighborhood by widening and paving the alleys.

But both said they know there is little that can be done at this point to stop the project.

"You can't really fight a right-of-way issue with them ... the city has really got the hammer on this," said Swaney, who is going to lose about 41/2; feet of his backyard, including a fence. "There is so much legal precedent and you don't really have a chance."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.