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Winetrout suit persists, expands

With the filing of a new motion, the wrangling continues in the Winetrout lawsuit that has cost the Medford Urban Renewal Agency &

36;25,645 in legal fees.

Instead of spending it on something downtown, we're spending it on the court system, said MURA Director Don Burt.

Bill Ferguson has added a supplement to his original lawsuit claiming the agency has illegally changed its revitalization document.

The case is scheduled for a Jackson County Circuit Court hearing on Nov. 22.

Urban Renewal's plans to build a six-story, mixed-use building with a parking garage at Main and Fir streets were under way when Ferguson, who owns several downtown office buildings, filed suit in February.

He claimed the mixed-use building, which included office space, does not fall within the scope of MURA's official revitalization plan.

The litigation process caused the developer and potential tenants to miss their deadlines, so the project was abandoned in July.

In August, MURA asked Ferguson to dismiss his case, without success, and now the agency is unable to look into developing its property, Burt said.

A pending lawsuit would complicate funding, he said.

The problem is, no developer would consider getting involved with us, Burt said.

Ferguson could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in a guest opinion to the dated Feb. 17, 2002, he expressed concern about the public not being informed about MURA decisions relating to Winetrout.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency has never been forthcoming with details about the nature and scope of the project, including the full extent of the taxpayer contribution, which may total more than &

36;11 million, he wrote.

But Burt said there have been several public meetings and opportunities for public comment.

We've always been a very open process, he said.

We've gone by the letter of the law.

MURA's attorney, Dan Thorndike, said that MURA filed a motion in September stating the Winetrout project is terminated. While acknowledging that action last week, Ferguson added a new motion.

Thorndike said the motion claims MURA did not follow their own rules in treating several amendment changes as minor instead of substantial. Substantial amendments require public hearings and City Council approval, which did not occur for several recent revitalization plan changes.

He said it means Ferguson and his attorney, Charles Corrigan of Portland, are not quitting.

The goal post has moved again, said Thorndike.

Meanwhile the urban renewal property sits there, he said.

It would certainly appear that their motive is to hinder any development on that property, said Thorndike.

It often becomes a waiting game, you know, who can outlast the issue, he added.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail .