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Medford asks for input on growth plans

Urban growth boundary discussions can glaze over eyes in rapid fashion, but the city of Medford is at a key point in establishing its future borders for housing, commerce and industry.

City Council President Dan Bunn asked community leaders to be involved in the process Monday during a Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Forum at Rogue Valley Country Club.

"We have to gather input and figure out what's the best thing for our city," he said "It's one of the biggest decisions we will make during our time on the council during the next 20 years. We hope everybody stays engaged with us, and give us your feedback."

Simply put, Bunn said, the UGB is how far the city can expand its geographic limits. State law requires the city to identify land available to handle 20 years of population growth. The practice was instituted in 1978, and the last major overhaul of the city's plan was in 1990.

"Not a lot of land was developed during the recession, but we're running out of land," Bunn said.   

He said a Regional Problem Solving process involving the broader county was a helpful tool for long-range planning for 50 years out.

"Once we know how many people are coming and how much land we have, we can draw some conclusions. We can calculate how much housing we need, what type of housing we need and where it should go."

In recent years, the city embarked on a sometimes controversial internal land-use study.

"One of the ways we trip people up sometimes is by having land zoned incorrectly," the council president said. "We looked at all the redevelopable land and asked is this zoned right? We want places that are easy to grow into with water, sewer and electricity. But there is too much land that is easy to expand into than what we are going to be allowed."

There were far more requests by land owners for inclusion and zoning changes than made it into the Planning Commission's document.

"It's a political decision," he said. "There is no easy way around it, when we are talking about bringing in this much land and there is this many variables. We will do the best we can, taking input from the public. There were unhappy people on the commission and some unhappy people in the community, no doubt about it. That's just how it's going to be." 

Once the Planning Commission made its recommendations, they were passed along to City Council, which will take up the matter in August.

"It will be a miracle if we don't tweak it somehow," Bunn said. 

After the city arrives at its conclusions, the county and state have to sign off on the UGB expansion plan.

"It's not just a decision we make as a city, we have to justify it to a lot of people," he said. "If we're lucky, nobody will sue us, but that's a big if. So we may be in front of LUBA (Land Use Board of Appeals) and the Court of Appeals."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/EconomicEdge.