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Planning Commission chair saw four decades of growth

When Planning Commission Chairman Chuck Piland moved to Central Point in 1976, the downtown strip boasted three narrow lanes, wider sidewalks and large flowering trees with a quaint boulevard feel. Four decades later, Piland, who joined the commission five years after moving to town, will retire from his longtime role by year's end.

Ironically, the downtown, long devoid of those graceful flowering trees and now boasting an additional traffic lane, could soon be revamped to better reflect the calmer feel of the mid-1900s.

Over his nearly four decades of helping the city guide growth, Piland has presided over meetings focused on everything from a controversial Walmart and rules about marijuana dispensaries to everyday issues such as fence heights, street lighting and what types of trees to allow in residential areas.

"There have been some exciting times and some dull times," Piland says with a laugh. Known for his bear hugs and calm demeanor, Piland recalls being recruited by former mayor Don Jones, in whose honor he eventually helped name a park along Hamrick Road.

"He was the one who first asked if I would be interested," notes Piland. "I figured I'd give it a try."

Quick to admit the years have gone by quickly, Piland, a native Oregonian, takes stock of all the change to come to the city. At the helm of meetings about the proposed Walmart store that  were so heavily attended they were moved to the high school, Piland recalls the project as one of few on which the commission and council differed.

"People are for things or against things. Two of the big issues for with Walmart were, number one, people didn't like how they did business and, number two, they didn't like how they looked," he said.

"The early stores were really one big ugly box, but the new ones look much nicer and I think a lot of impetus from that came out of places like Central Point fighting them."

Another large project reviewed under Piland's watch was the valley's first transit-oriented development, Twin Creeks, which he regards as "one of the best projects that have happened in the city."

In more recent years, issues ranged from a skateboard park and basketball hoops left in roadways to relocating Costco from Medford and working to gain approval for a rail crossing at Twin Creeks.

"The railroad has been a really big one. We've been working with the railroad for many years to get an overcrossing to alleviate traffic on that side of town. The railroad doesn't like to allow new crossings and they're terrible expensive," he said.

Of longtime community development director Tom Humphrey, with whom Piland has worked closely for decades, Piland, only half joking, said Humphreys sweat and tears over the project exceed anyone else's.

"If that ever comes through, it's going to have to be the Tom Humphrey Memorial Railroad."

Humphrey, an admitted friend and fan of 70-year-old Piland, said the city was lucky to have a citizen devoted to development of the town for so long. Humphrey noted that Piland was active in both 1997 and 2007 strategic plans, bringing institutional memory to both.

Describing Piland as reasonable, fair-minded and "a strong and gracious leader," Humphrey said Piland "set a positive tone for an otherwise formal government process."

"He paid attention to people who testified at meetings, called them by name and treated them with respect. He understood public meeting law and was always careful to keep the commission on track," Humphrey said, noting occasional impatience if disrespect occurred at meetings.

"There is a story where a developer asked for special consideration, arrived at the meeting well after his item was discussed and a decision had been made. Chuck asked him to explain his tardiness and then advised him that if he expected the city to take his work seriously, he ought to show up on time. His proposal was denied."

While Piland has stepped down as chairman a handful of times, offering his position to newer commissioners, he's taken it back when asked. City Recorder Deanna Casey called Piland a longtime favorite.

"If I know that he is somewhere in City Hall, I seek him out to get one of his famous bear hugs,” she said.

Planning Commissioner Kay Harrison applauded Piland's commitment.

"He's been there for a long time so he's got a lot of history and knowledge behind him and we're going to miss that," Harrison said. "For all the time he's been on the commission, he knew how to be exactly what the city needed."

Humbled by the accolades, Piland, also retiring from a 46-year career in wholesale plumbing sales, said he enjoyed his time serving the city.

"It didn't really feel like it had been that many years until someone added it up," he said. A footnote, Piland has signed on as a volunteer for the city's community policing group, CERT.

"I've just enjoyed the people I've gotten to know, and everyone involved, 99 percent of the time, is sincere in what they believe. No matter who you are, it's important to serve your community," he said.

"Over the years, we've had people serve on the commission who were very qualified and people that have been very green — and they all made good commissioners. I think it's important to remember that everyone can contribute."

— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Chuck Piland, left, who has spent 35 years with the Central Point Planning Commission, vists Twin Creeks Park with Central Point Community Development Director Tom Humphrey. Piland helped oversee the creation of the park and surrounding development. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta