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Hillcrest annexation won't help fire survivors

It’s obvious the valley has a great need of affordable replacement housing for the fire victims, as evidenced in numerous recent front-page articles in the MT. There have been some positive developments, but converted motel rooms don’t offer anything like the privacy or space even a modest manufactured home provides. Much more needs to be done.

Notwithstanding this extreme need for low-cost housing, the city announced that it has now annexed the Hillcrest Orchards and other property along Foothills Road. I have dreaded this annexation ever since the Planning Commission added the area in question to the urban growth boundary. I do not recall the MT examining the proposal in advance; only afterward were the stakes discussed.

The planners envision adding 10,000-plus homes stretching from Exit 24 north along North Phoenix Road and Foothills. The justification for this extreme enlargement of the valley’s urban footprint appears to be the continuing pressure of Oregon-bound California “refugees” wishing to move here.

Medford’s principal planner said about the annexation: “It has this great agricultural feel, and we will see that change over time.” Cue up Joni Mitchell’s lament: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot!” In this case they intend to put up at least 750 new homes, not a parking lot.

There is “discussion” of two “high-density housing complexes,” and a commercial area with a town square. Given the controversy the Circle K station and Cherry Creek housing caused, who actually thinks any of that will come to pass? No, it is far more likely that all that will be built will be hundreds of “fine homes,” affordable mostly to those California “refugees” — who are mostly retirees fleeing huge increasingly unlivable urban areas, not our own actual refugees.

Projects already in the works have caused extensive road work on Cedar Links. The Hillcrest annexation would eventually be linked to Spring Street, already way too narrow for existing traffic. More road work to follow!

Meanwhile, due to expectations that the Medford Interstate 5 viaduct would fail in a Cascadia earthquake, the plan is to widen Foothills and extend it to 140, to allow the valley not to be cut off entirely should I-5 be impassable. However, if that route from Phoenix to White City is also the main north-south thoroughfare for all that new housing, how exactly is that supposed to work?

This urbanization of our remaining farmland risks turning the valley into the very thing those California “refugees” are fleeing: an unlivable urban mess, choked with traffic and smog. How will our lives here be enhanced by thousands of new McMansions priced far outside the means of most valley residents, with their thousands of miles of additional necessary daily vehicle trips choking our already crowded roads, to say nothing of choking our lungs with the increased emissions from those vehicles?

Let’s focus instead on providing desperately needed replacement housing first, and on the general well-being of our valley for the future, too.

Reade King lives in Medford.