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Business owners believe rules should apply to ODOT

In their appeal of north Medford I-5 interchange, they ask the Land Use Board of Appeals to decide whether proper procedures were applied

The state should have to follow its own land-use laws, said the owners of three Medford businesses that would lose driveways and property when the new Interstate 5 north interchange is built.

"There are rules and regulations that have to be followed," said Rod Witham, the owner of Witham Truck Center, which would lose its Biddle Road access with the freeway changes. "If the rules are not followed, the (state Land Use Board of Appeals) can chastise, order a project to be re-done or stop it completely. We feel ODOT is not above following the rules."

Witham, along with the owners of Rogue Regency and Comfort Inn, recently filed with LUBA an intent to appeal the state's $36 million north interchange project.

"If the shoe was on the other foot, we'd have to follow the guidelines of the law," said Scott McCollum, owner of Rogue Regency Inn. "We feel there are issues that the Land Use Board of Appeals should look at."

His attorney, Michelle Rudd of Stoel Rives in Portland, is working out the details of the appeal, he said.

The LUBA appeal won't affect the north interchange project's construction schedule, which will begin in 2003, said Monte Grove, Oregon Department of Transportation area manager.

"We're waiting to learn more about the appeal so we can respond," he said. "The project will continue to move forward until we get a court order telling us to stop."

Unrelated to the appeal about whether ODOT followed state land-use procedures, Rogue Regency and Witham Truck Center owners said they are concerned about how the new freeway interchange will impact businesses.

About two dozen businesses formed the North Interchange-Concerned Business Owners group and spent about $40,000 on legal fees and an engineer's study. They hired Kittleston and Associates in Portland to create alternative interchange designs.

One alternative, for example, would spare Best Western Pony Soldier Inn and Denny's Restaurant, two of 12 businesses that would be displaced under ODOT's current design.

"We proposed an alternative that used the same roundabout concept but changed its geometrics to handle increased speed, volume and traffic," McCollum said. "The state wouldn't have to condemn the property and pay extra money to those businesses."

Another idea in the Kittleston plan changed the angle of the northbound off-ramp on Interstate 5, saving the Chevron gas station, he said.

The state gleaned as many ideas as possible from the Kittleston plan, Grove said. One compromise, for example, was to save Rogue Regency's swimming pool and conference center, but give up an adjacent building that houses a beauty salon, check-cashing business and a tax service. ODOT will pay relocation costs, Grove said.

But most of the design options were not considered safe enough for the busy, dangerous intersection, Grove said.

Reach reporter Melissa Martin at 776-4497, or e-mail