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Local editorials

New city rules worth a look A proposal to make exceptions easier maintains critical protections

On the surface, it sounds like a bad idea: to relax the language in Medford's planning law so it's easier for people who want exceptions to development rules to get them.

But the proposal making the rounds of City Hall might not be as bad as all that underneath. It maintains a process that involves neighbors before a ruling is made, a key to good planning decisions.

And while it could increase the workload of an already taxed Planning Department, it also might make the process fairer for people who are trying to use their land.

If the proposal is approved, the city would drop language in the code that requires property owners to prove they have no reasonable use of the land unless the exception is granted. Instead they would have to prove undue hardship without the exception, an easier and still reasonable standard to meet, planners say.

Our biggest concern about the change was that it would allow bad development to slide through without anybody's notice.

But the new code would maintain the public protections of the existing one: Neighbors within 200 feet of the development would receive a notice informing them of the plans and of hearings required before approval.

— If your neighbor needed an exception to construct a driveway where he wanted it, you'd still be notified. If the owner of the acreage next to yours wanted to build a 500-home subdivision, you'd have the same opportunity to fight it. And projects that required exceptions before still would require them, they'd just be easier to prove.

The fingers in the dike? It would be up to the city's Planning Commission or Site Plan and Architectural Commission, depending on the project, to put a stop to plans that don't make sense. They already do that with exceptions, they'd just do it more often.

The city would have to learn to deal with that as well as with work this could add to planners' loads.

It still might not be the route we would have chosen for Medford planning, where growth often threatens livability instead of improving it.

But planners make a reasonable case for what they think is a reasonable change. Given the protections built into the system, it's probably worth a try.

How to help here With all of the recent humanitarian disasters in far-flung parts of the world, from the Gulf Coast in our country to Central American villages to the mountains of Kashmir, it's easy to forget that plenty of need remains, all year long, right here in the Rogue Valley. Fortunately, there's a way to help that's easy, relatively painless and remarkable effective: Give to the United Way.

The agency's annual fund-raising campaign under way now collects pledges from people throughout the valley. Donations are distributed to nearly 50 United Way member agencies that work to meet the needs of people in our community.

The goal of this year's campaign is &

36;976,317, an increase of 8.4 percent over last year's collections. As of last week, pledges and receipts totaled &

36;380,000 ' 39.3 percent of the goal ' since the campaign began Sept. 17. That's the largest amount ever this early in the campaign.

Getting involved is easy: Just fill out a form at your workplace, if your employer participates. You can have any amount you wish deducted from your paycheck, or make a lump-sum contribution. You can even designate what agency receives your donation if you wish.

If your employer does not participate, contact the United Way office at 773-5339.