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Speakers oppose district land deal

Three people at a Medford School District public hearing Tuesday urged the school board to reject a gift of 14.45 acres of land on Hull Road for a possible future school site, including one man who described the gift as more of a "horse trade."

The gift is contingent on the school district using its clout to include the remainder of the donors' property in the city's urban growth boundary.

The land southeast of the intersection of Hull Road and Stewart Avenue is part of an 80-acre site owned by three families who hope to build a mixed-use development on the remainder of the property. The land is now zoned for exclusive farm use. Inclusion in the urban growth boundary would allow development of the property, access to city utilities and a significant increase in the property's value.

"This is a $2 million tax write-off for (these families)," said Central Point resident Gene Johnson. "That is what the property (would be) worth. This is a horse trade, not really a donation. It's kind of like giving you an egg and getting a chicken back."

Johnson was referring to an estimate by school district officials that the gift would be worth about $2 million if the land were part of the urban growth boundary. The 14.45 acres is worth about $225,000 at present market value, according to Jackson County property records.

A new state law gives school districts strong influence on whether property should be included in the urban growth boundary if the district formally notifies the city, the county and the state that the property is necessary for its plans for future schools. The urban growth boundary helps dictate future development in urban areas.

In addition to the 14.45-acre site, the families' offer includes an option to buy an adjacent 26.4 acres at a discounted price during the next 30 years. The Boitano, Bottjer and Haviland families own the property.

School district officials said the property could be an option for a future middle school and would not be expensive to develop because the property abuts city utility lines.

But the three speakers at Tuesday's hearing unanimously opposed the proposal.

"I always felt the urban growth boundary should be done for the good of the community and not for the benefit of individual property values," said Medford resident Gary Peterson. He said population growth is happening on the east side of the district rather than the west side, where the Hull Road property is situated.

"There is an appearance of peddling the influence of the school board," he said. "I do not like the way this appears."

Medford resident Nikki Keating agreed.

"The city has an urban growth boundary for a reason," Keating said. "I understand the carrot of the property, but once you take agricultural land away, you can't get it back. I urge you to think of the city and not just the school district. I ask you not to turn us into the San Bernardino Valley."

School Board member Jeff Thomas said the board knows the property owners' true intention is to make a profit but added that the school district mutually benefits. The transaction could spare district taxpayers money on the cost of buying a school site in the future, Thomas said.

"It is an asset if the district does get this," he said. "I was elected to the School Board to protect taxpayers' interest."

The school board is expected to discuss the proposal again at its Nov. 16 meeting, district officials said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

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Site of proposed school land deal in a larger map