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Hillcrest Orchard no longer fits


The island of farmland is picturesque, but its time has come

What to do with Hillcrest Orchard? There it sits on the lower flanks of east Medford's Roxy Ann Peak, beautiful and historic and surrounded on every side by development.

Some members of the family that owns the 250 acres of land want it to be cleared for growth as well, and the city's Planning Commission also is convinced that's best.

So do we ' and that's despite the immense bucolic charm of the 100-year-old farmhouse and the barn and the acreage now covered with wine grapes.

The farm is a relic, a scenic green space with more community significance historically than agriculturally.

State land-use laws, of course, are designed to protect agricultural land until it is no longer viable for farming. They create an argument against letting go of orchards such as Hillcrest.

— But the larger intent of Oregon's laws is to divide urban areas from rural ' to ensure that cities don't slowly overtake and eliminate agriculture and forest land.

Oddities such as Hillcrest Orchard already are surrounded by urban land and by homes. Its issues are now often urban as well: how, for example, to shield the neighbors from chemicals sprayed on plants.

And while the orchard today is fairly close to the edge of Medford's urban growth boundary, nothing in the city's plans indicates it will be in the future. Most growth in coming decades is expected to occur to the north and the east of Medford, while most valuable farmland is on the west and south sides of town.

Medford already has swept other surrounded orchards into its growth area. The land now occupied by Fichtner-Mainwaring Park, for example, once was part of an orchard.

Hillcrest's situation differs from it in a number of ways, not the least of which is its historical significance to the community.

But as important as its history is, it alone isn't enough to force the farm's owners to continue on as farmers.

As the city considers its growth plan for coming years, it should think moderation. Boundaries should widen only where necessary or logical, and the city should look toward filling in urban areas before allowing more creep into rural land.

Giving Hillcrest Orchard a green light for development should be part of the plan.