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Medford school board approves land deal

The Medford School Board believes it has struck a good deal after accepting a 20-acre gift of land in exchange for allowing the landowners to reap a potentially big profit.

The board voted Tuesday to absorb the parcel of land in rural southwest Medford that possibly could be used for a future school site.

In exchange, the school district would ask the city to include the landowners' nearby property into the city's urban growth boundary. The property would be annexed so it could be subdivided, potentially making it very valuable.

The board voted 5-to-1 to accept the deal. Paulie Brading was the lone dissenter. New member Marlene Yesquen abstained from voting, saying she did not have the proper time to study the deal.

The deal comes on the heels of a 2007 state law that gives school districts a strong influence in moving property into the urban growth boundaries.

The land in question is southeast of the intersection of Hull Road and Stewart Avenue. It is part of an 80-acre site owned by the landowners who hope to build a mixed-use development on the remainder of the property. The land now is zoned for farm use.

"There is just not a lot of downside to the district," said Larry Nicholson.

Jeff Thomas said the district does not immediately need the land, but it could come in handy in the future if the district begins growing. "This is an asset school boards 25 to 30 years from now will have on the books," he said.

Brading argued that the deal was unnecessary because the district already owns land around the former South Medford High School grounds.

She also pointed out that enrollment has trended downward for the past five years. She said the district would need to start posting higher student numbers in the coming years to win her vote.

"The projected enrollment numbers would have to be startling for me to support this," she said.

Board chairman Eric Dziura said he backs the plan, but with reservations. He is concerned the Legislature created the law to allow fast-growing schools near Portland to expand quickly, but it might not have been intended to make money for a second party.

The board acknowledged the state could shoot down the deal when it comes under review.

Dziura did say the enrollment numbers could go up in the future. "Nobody knows what is going to happen in 20 years," he said.

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.

The landowners' have sweetened their deal since negotiations began about a year ago. The district initially was offered 14 acres, which now is worth an estimated $2 million if it and the rest of the 80 acres were part of the urban growth boundary. At present market value, the 14 acres are worth $225,000, according to Jackson County property records.

In addition to offering the 20 acres at no cost, the families' offer includes an option to buy more than 20 acres of adjacent land at 95 percent of market value. The families also have agreed to pick up all the expenses associated with petitioning the city to include the land in the urban growth boundary.

(Correction: Detail of the option to buy have been corrected in this story.)

School district officials have said the property could be an option for a future middle school. The 20 acres would reduce the expense of having to buy property and would not be expensive to develop because the property abuts city utility lines.