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Council vote sends message

Medford's elected leaders were right to put city's needs before Wal-Mart's

Wal-Mart may yet build its hulking store at Miles Field. But at least it won't be with Medford's City Council greasing the skids.

The council, which has not often been noted for holding the line on development, dug in impressively on Thursday when it voted 5-1 against allowing the world's largest retailer to proceed with plans for the 207,000-square-foot supercenter.

As one council member put it: I don't know what art is, but I know what ugly is.

No one's asking for the Wal-Mart store to be art. But the community is asking that the retailer go lighter on the ugliness than it has proposed.

Suggestions at Thursday's meeting included limiting the size of the store and making the building two stories, immediately halving its footprint. Several council members talked about concerns that Wal-Mart was not compatible with other buildings in the area.

Now, it's not as though the area surrounding Miles Field is particularly bucolic. Next door to Wal-Mart would be the two-story Rogue Federal Credit Union offices and the Medford Armory. Also in the neighborhood are Fred Meyer, Harry and David, a call center, an ice rink and several strip malls.

— But the store would stick out just the same. No other single-story business in the area nears 200,000 square feet. None has the expanse of parking lot Wal-Mart would require. None has a 900-foot-long concrete block wall fronting Highway 99.

City Council members don't just have the right to question that, they have the responsibility. While it's still not clear that the city can stop Wal-Mart entirely, it certainly can make the retailer build the store to fit Medford rather than trying to force Medford to fit it.

The city has changed for the better in recent years. Urban renewal is turning downtown into a place where people want to spend time. In new developments on the outskirts, chunks of green space, wide sidewalks and decorative touches attest to the fact that the city is asking developers to do more than they once did for looks and livability. Projects like the proposed sports park promise to make Medford even more desirable.

In the midst of it all, the council is faced with this: a Wal-Mart Supercenter that doesn't seem like it fits the picture. The council ought to hold the line against the retailer ' and budge on its stand only if Wal-Mart can answer the community's concerns.