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Slow, trucks ahead

Neighbors of a proposed travel center on the site of the former Talent Truck Stop would like to see the project slowed down so that potential issues such as pollution, traffic flow, buffers and noise can be investigated.

The 5.4-acre site on West Valley View Road is already zoned for commercial use.

But time constraints in the land-use process make a decision by the Planning Commission when it meets Thursday, Sept. 28, advantageous to allow time for appeals before a Nov. 21 deadline. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at Talent Town Hall, 206 E. Main St.

“The main theme is, is there a way we could have some time and find out what additional steps could be taken to address these concerns that have been raised?” said David Sours, who represents a group of neighbors from the adjacent Oak Valley subdivision.

Northwest Properties & Investments LLC has proposed a facility that will feature refueling for diesel big rigs and gas for cars, along with a 13,000-square-foot convenience store, 24-hour restaurant and trucker’s lounge. Existing buildings would be removed. Upgrades would be made to landscaping, drainage, lighting and access.

“I and a few others want to approach this reasonably and collaboratively and educate ourselves and have the opportunity to inform ourselves on what the development is really doing,” said Sours. About 30 people from Oak Valley attended a recent meeting on the project. The subdivision includes 76 houses.

Planning commissioners first considered the project Aug. 24. Commissioners continued a public hearing to the Sept. 28 meeting. As of Friday, 29 written comments had been received since the first meeting.

Under Oregon planning law, the city is obligated to make a decision on the application within 120 days from when it's accepted. Otherwise the city could be taken to court, where the developer could ask for a writ of mandamus that compels approval of the application.

Community Development Director Zac Moody said he will remind the commission of the timelines Sept. 28.

Developer Bob Krohn has offered to meet with neighbors, said Sours, but a meeting has not yet been scheduled.

“A truck stop hasn’t been there for a while, but it has not ever changed (the site’s) use; it just hasn’t been a very active truck stop,” said Moody. “The uses that are posed are allowed in the highway commercial zone.”

Residents were unhappy with what they perceived as a lack of notice on the hearing, said Moody. About 30 property owners within 250 feet of the project were mailed notices as required by state law, and two signs were posted on the property announcing the hearing.

Problems with the sound system Aug. 24 made it difficult for some audience members to hear what was being said, reported Planning Commission member Joi Riley. Moody and Riley both noted the audience was not quiet, making listening difficult.

“The problem is that until something like this happens on your front door step, you don’t understand how it all works. That just leads to frustration,” said Riley. “The public was at a disadvantage. They really could not tell what was going on. Part of our job is to make sure people understand the process.”

Wagner Creek flows between the subdivision and the proposed site on land owned by the city. The site has mature trees, which will act as a buffer, although the center will be visible in winter when leaves fall.

The natural buffer is probably better than any combination of fences and trees that might be planted, said Moody. The applicant has offered to plant evergreen western red cedars along the creek to create more of a buffer for neighboring houses, although that is not required for approval. Installation of a wall would be problematic in the riparian habitat, which is also a floodway.

Jackson County Fire District 5 Chief Charles Hanley recommended including perimeter curbing and shutoff valves on the storm-water system to help deal with any hazardous material spills.

Recent traffic studies by the Oregon Department of Transportation determined that both Highway 99 and Interstate 5 Exit 21 would be able to handle traffic from the site, said Moody. The city’s revised traffic element of the comprehensive plan, adopted in 2015, also determined there is enough road capacity for anticipated traffic.

Most activity at the site ceased in 2010, and a restaurant there closed the same year, while refueling of big rigs stopped before then. A commercial license has been maintained for the site, and trucks park there during the day and overnight. Oak Valley was developed in the mid-1990s, but the truck stop shop was built in the late 1970s, and the restaurant dates from 1955.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

A new travel center is proposed on the site of the old Talent Truck Stop on Valley View Road, but neighbors are concerned about traffic, noise and pollution. [MT File Photo]