Council correct on big-box ban
A specific size limit is unwise, but the city does need control
After hearing several years of debate over a proposed Wal-Mart Superstore, the Medford City Council last week reached what some might consider a surprising conclusion to resist imposing size restrictions on future "big box" stores. We agree with that decision, but hope the council will still produce an ordinance that gives the city ample control over the appearance and suitability of super-sized buildings.
The council, in a meeting last week, heard a report from a committee appointed two years ago to prepare a proposed ordinance regulating large retail buildings. That came several months after an announcement by Wal-Mart that it wanted to build a 206,000-square-foot supercenter on the site of the Miles Field baseball park in south Medford.
As is often the case with Wal-Mart, the announced plans spurred an outcry from a variety of sources. The company is infamous for its miserly dealings with employees and suppliers and for its predatory tactics against competitors. But the city said its hands were tied because of the parcel's zoning, so much so that it couldn't even demand a comprehensive traffic study from a business that will generate an estimated 8,750 trips a day.
That led to land-use appeals being filed against the store, a fight that continues today. But quietly, behind the scenes, the committee worked on an ordinance to give the city more control over future construction.
While no formal vote has been taken, the council reached a consensus last week that it would not set a specific size limit. That seems smart to us, for two reasons: First, there's no way to know what sort of creative proposals may come up in the future that would be derailed by an inflexible and arbitrary size restriction. Second, more than any other community in Southern Oregon, Medford should be prepared to make way for large commercial developments. We say that not because we're eager for more traffic and more congestion, but because consolidating that kind of development in a large, central city will ultimately be better for the livability of the entire valley.
The recent decision by Home Depot to build in Phoenix illustrates the point. Without question, many Medford residents will shop at that store &
8212; in fact, we'd bet the majority of its customers will come from Medford. Those people will get in their cars in Medford, drive through Medford to Phoenix and then turn around and make the drive home, adding extra miles and congestion with every trip.
If Medford creates the space for major developments (and several are in the works), it will create a community better suited for public transportation and build a tax base that can help it establish the infrastructure necessary to handle more businesses, more people and more cars.
That's not to say the city should step back and let development grow willy-nilly, nor do we think that's what the council intends. In its discussions last week, there appeared to be a determination that the city should have more control over future growth than it appears to have over the Wal-Mart plans.
If big stores are looking for a place to land in the Rogue Valley, the biggest city is the logical place, both for business reasons and the overall livability of our valley. Bigger is not always better, but in some cases it's inevitable and the city and its citizens will be better served if we are prepared for those cases.