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Wal-Mart wants a super center.

Central Point will consider limiting sizes of retail stores

CENTRAL POINT ' For four years, Naumes Properties LLC scoured the nation in search of an anchor tenant for a 21-acre commercial development on East Pine Street.

The search appeared to be over earlier this year when a Wal-Mart agent proposed a 207,000-square-foot super center for the site. But a new roadblock could stop it.

The Central Point City Council will consider an ordinance that would ban commercial buildings bigger than 80,000 square feet. It will take up the issue at its 7 p.m. Thursday meeting.

It's really disappointing, said Mike Naumes, president of Naumes Inc., the family-owned agriculture and real estate firm, who was in Marysville, Calif., on Tuesday. Finally, we get a major tenant willing to buy the entire piece and all of a sudden this big-box ordinance jumps out of the woodwork.

— However, city Planning Director Tom Humphrey said Tuesday, the ordinance clarifies and defines what has been part of the city's strategic plan since 1998.

Whether the ordinance passes or not, probably what it will come down to is how the city interprets its community codes, Humphrey said. The people we're dealing with want to interpret our code the way they want. We feel that the timing demands we act quickly.

Quickly enough that the city declared an emergency so the change could take effect immediately if passed.

I'm concerned about preserving downtown businesses, grocery stores, retail shops and promoting more of those, Humphrey said. A Wal-Mart super store would be a component detrimental to downtown.

In some ways the pending action is perplexing to Naumes and other land owners along the East Pine corridor between Bear Creek and Table Rock Road. The city opened its arms for residential and commercial development during the 1990s, and its population doubled to more than 14,000.

When Home Depot explored building on the Naumes property in 2001, Humphrey wrote a letter of support for the project. Home Depot decided to pursue other sites.

It's hard to understand why the city would support one big box, but not this one, said Robert Boggess, manager of Naumes Properties. Apparently after the Wal-Mart people laid out their vision (in May), there was discussion at a Central Point council meeting.

Sandy Orr, a Central Point resident since the mid-1990s, said Wal-Mart would have a variety of beneficial influences from the store's community involvement to the convenience of not having to drive across Medford to get to a Wal-Mart.

More than anything, however, she's disturbed by the lack of public notice for the proposed change.

A rumor can go around Central Point in a day, Orr said. But the first I heard about this was last Friday. I think somebody doesn't want (Wal-Mart) in there. It's weird, because it's all been behind the scenes and nobody knows about it. I'm not sure why it's an emergency; it's not like they're building it tomorrow.

I would like to hear from the rest of the community. If the rest of the community doesn't want it, I would say fine, don't put it in there.

Orr said when USF Reddaway wanted to build on a parcel next to Boise Cascade during the mid-1990s, there was a big uproar.

The people didn't want a trucking terminal by a residential area and they built elsewhere, Orr said. It was out in the open and that's the way it should work.

Of four City Council members reached Tuesday, two appeared inclined to adopt the ordinance change and two were noncommittal. Third-year council president Bill Stults pointed to Talent, where Wal-Mart recently announced it was leaving to build a super center at Miles Field in south Medford.

Right now, I'm leaning toward the recommendations of the staff, Stults said. We have a pretty good example of what happens to small communities and I think it (Wal-Mart) can hurt local small business.

Size was the chief issue for Donna Higginbotham, who has served on the council off and on for more than two decades.

The land is too small and I think a building that size is preposterous, Higginbotham said, I'd rather have tourist-oriented facilities ' a motel and a nice restaurant.

If anything, however, the past four years have proven that tenants don't grow on trees as pears once did on the site until a few years ago.

Naumes' difficulty carries over beyond its own holdings, including another 17 acres south of the Family Fun Center. About 30 acres are held by other parties, waiting for an anchor store to attract peripheral clients.

If people don't want to shop in bigger stores, that's fine, said John Batzer of Batzer Construction. He owns nearby land on the south side of Pine Street near Table Rock Road. But they're trying to restrict competition by legislation instead of letting the marketplace determine it.

In Ashland, at least all the people said 'Yes, we agree.' I can understand that, but it seems to me they've decided to do this as quick as they can without outside input.

It's estimated the Wal-Mart project would produce &

36;1.8 million in systems development charges for the city. As the rest of the corridor would build up, that SDC revenue could double.

Batzer said some of that cash could help Central Point revitalize its downtown district which, in turn, would provide revenue for other projects. SDCs are intended to offset the cost of services and infrastructure needed to support development. The tax base would also grow as the properties are improved. The Talent Wal-Mart paid nearly &

36;82,000 in property tax last year.

The peripheral expansion, he said, would benefit both the local economy and public coffers.

We get smaller places that feed off Wal-Mart and the growth it's going to bring, Batzer said. Growth isn't necessarily bad; it's going to generate jobs.

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Central Point Planning Director Tom Humphrey would like to see smaller retail outlets in town and says that?s been the city?s plan since 1998. A Wal-Mart super center would violate that plan and hurt downtown businesses. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell