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Business district expansion is a logical step

A proposed expansion of the Central Business Overlay is a logical next step toward encouraging more high-density housing to Medford’s core. Then Medford Urban Renewal Board made the right decision in seeking approval from the Planning Commission to add three properties north of Fourth Street, but the expansion shouldn’t stop there.

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The three properties are a parcel owned by Budge McHugh Plumbing Supply across from its store, property owned by Pallet Wine, which has future expansion plans, and a group of properties to the north of Pallet.

The Central Business Overlay, which designates the downtown for planning purposes, allows unlimited density and does not require off-street parking. MURA’s executive director says there is high interest from developers in building new housing around downtown. Expanding potential sites for those projects would go a long way to begin meeting the critical lack of housing, especially after so many dwelling units were lost in last year’s Almeda fire.

Encouraging that kind of development in and around downtown would also contribute to a key element still missing from MURA’s vision for the central business district: a critical mass of people living there. When sizable numbers of people not only work downtown but live there, businesses will open to cater to their needs for groceries and other services.

Urban renewal efforts through the years repeatedly included housing, but for a variety of reasons the residential component fell by the wayside.

The property where One West Main now sits was previously the site of a mixed-use project, but that fell through. The building now houses corporate offices and empty retail spaces on the ground floor. The Lithia headquarters was originally designed to include a residential component, but that was dropped when the project was scaled down after the recession of 2007.

In a MURA meeting last week, some City Council members,who also act as the MURA board, said they would support expanding the central district beyond just the three properties. City staff said it would be better to move ahead on those properties for now and leave a broader expansion for later, as it involves a time-consuming process of seeking approval from multiple property owners.

That’s reasonable. There is no reason to hold up an incremental expansion. But city leaders should encourage other property owners in the area to consider the possibilities. Medford is poised for what could be an exciting revitalization as we move out of the pandemic in the next year or so.