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Land purchases are a good sign

At long last, the Medford Urban Renewal Agency is poised to move ahead with development near the Liberty Park neighborhood, potentially encouraging developers to add what’s been missing all these years from downtown improvement projects: Residential housing.

For a variety of reasons, housing never rose to the top of the agency’s list of improvements. Parking structures, new sidewalks and street lights and restoring the facades of commercial buildings got done, but not the housing element.

The Commons — a cooperative effort involving MURA and Lithia Motors, which built its headquarters downtown — was originally intended to include a residential component along with commercial space. But when the recession put the brakes on the work, housing was eliminated from the scaled-down project.

Now, MURA is considering spending more than $1.5 million to purchase three properties north of the Les Schwab tire Center on Central Ave near Jackson. The properties could be developed into a park that connects the Liberty Park residential district with Pear Blossom Park. Developers could be encouraged to build businesses that cater to neighborhood residents, along with housing — and eventually workforce housing.

Liberty Park was part of the original justification for creating the urban renewal district, but it never really shared in the resulting improvements, with the exception of a small park, while the rest of the district saw $67 million in new investment. Two years ago, the City Council voted to extend MURA’s life beyond its sunset date of 2019, generating $20 million in revenue. About 10 percent of that is being allocated to seismic retrofits of downtown buildings so residential units can be added above businesses — a crucial step to encourage more people to live downtown. The rest is earmarked for Liberty Park.

Affordable, multi-family housing near downtown would go a long way toward creating the kind of city Medford ought to become. The land purchases are a good first step.