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Meeting draws out Wal-Mart worries

'Electronic town-hall' meeting over Central Point project brings traffic, business queries

The city's first electronic town-hall meeting Wednesday at RVTV studios on the Southern Oregon University campus could easily have been as sparsely attended as its regular nontelevised meetings.

But this meeting was different because the issue was the controversial 207,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter proposed for the corner of Central Point's East Pine Street and Hamrick Road.

Like recent Central Point City Council meetings when the Wal-Mart issue has been addressed, city officials discussed city policies and responded to concerns.

People watching from home could chime in via e-mail or call in with their concerns.

— City Council member Mike Quilty, planning director Tom Humphrey, city administrator Phil Messina and Mayor Hank Williams took turns addressing issues and explaining the timeline for the proposed development.

Humphrey pointed out that when he came to the city in 1998 he was given a strategic plan that stated part of the community's vision was to keep a small-town feel regardless of growth.

Humphrey said downtown businesses owners had mixed views on the possibility of Wal-Mart coming to town.

Another worry was that though the City Council has reviewed policies and adopted an ordinance limiting large retailers to 80,000-square-feet or less, the Wal-Mart project would fall under previous guidelines.

Primary audience concerns mirrored recent meetings regarding the Supercenters proposed in Central Point and at Miles Field in Medford.

Most seniors who called favored a Supercenter close to home in the interest of cheaper groceries and prescriptions while others voiced concerns over increased traffic, environmental impacts to nearby waterways, low wages paid by Wal-Mart and potential negative impacts to downtown businesses.

Downtown is all specialty shops. We need to broaden our tax base, argued one woman from Central Point.

Why do we need another Wal-Mart? said another. Seventy-percent of the valley is already blacktopped and concreted in.

In contrast to nontelevised meetings, which last several hours, feedback was cut short when the hour of allotted programming ended.

As the hour ended, Messina said city planners would move forward in the usual way but that the issue would not likely come before the City Council for several weeks or more.

law, the project must be approved or denied within 120 days of the original application, said Messina. In addition, council members are required to remain impartial on the issue, and make their decision based on the wants and needs of the community.

(The) council has made a commitment to manage growth. We can't stop it but we can manage it, he said.

There is a specific process, by law, that we have to go through and we're in the process of doing that.

Buffy Pollock is a free-lance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.