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A new approach

Medford should note the procedures Central Point put Wal-Mart through

Some Medford leaders now say they wish the city had laws in place to stop developments like the Wal-Mart Supercenter proposed at Miles Field.

Our wish list is one item longer ' for more public involvement on the way to any significant development decision.

The simultaneous debates over Supercenter proposals in Medford and Central Point in recent months have highlighted the differences in how the two cities handle similar situations.

Wal-Mart proposes stores larger than 200,000 square feet in both cities. Central Point's response has been to drag the retail giant through a process heavy on public and government involvement and thick with questions. Medford's approval, meanwhile, generally has been hands off as long as Wal-Mart follows city rules.

In Medford, Wal-Mart needed approval of a single city body, the Site Plan and Architecture Commission. That group's debate was limited to the look of the building, a frustration for opponents who wanted to discuss much more.

They now plan to appeal the commission's approval of the project to the Medford City Council, forcing council members to get involved.

— In fairness, the projects have differences that make Central Point's easier to fight. In Central Point, Wal-Mart has proposed building on a site set aside for a community shopping center. In Medford, on the other hand, the site is designated for regional shopping. That's what Wal-Mart is.

Our points here, though, are less about technicalities that might stop projects and more about how cities approach development and involve the public and the people elected to represent the public.

Government should work for the people, and it should routinely involve them in big decisions. Developers should have to follow the rules, and the rules should include ways to make sure developers are doing all that's necessary to meet the community's needs and standards.

Central Point's process has been clearly different from Medford's in two ways so far. The city's citizens advisory committee jumped into the fray early on and set up a series of hearings that encouraged public involvement and helped shape and express community opinion about the store. A similar committee in Medford lacks the authority to go that route.

Then last week the Central Point council set a meeting to discuss the project. That tells citizens it will be part of the debate even though that is not required unless the Planning Commission makes a decision that is appealed.

Medford's council has been accused of sitting on its hands when it comes to developments like this. We don't think it's that as much as lack of a process that encourages inclusiveness and insists on heavy and early involvement on the part of citizens and the people citizens elect to represent them.

We need better, as the Supercenter proposal has demonstrated. We need rules to limit big-box sizes, sure, but we also need a system that makes sure the community's concerns about a project are addressed and answered as a routine part of the process.