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Let the building begin: Medford gets thumbs-up on expansion

Medford cleared a major hurdle recently when state officials approved adding 4,046 acres to the city, pushing boundaries outward and paving the way for sizable tracts of houses around Centennial Golf Club and southeast Medford.

“It’s good for our community,” said Randy Jones with Mahar Homes. “It needed to take place.”

By the end of the year, developers such as Jones may be able to file applications to annex property. While more housing projects will be in the mix, the city also will see almost half the new land set aside for parks, specifically Chrissy and Prescott, which are not in city limits.

The Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development approved the urban growth boundary changes last week, but there is a 21-day appeal period that ends June 8 in which an objection could be filed.

After more than 20 years of discussion and some rough-and-tumble negotiations, the urban growth boundary change will add 1,658 acres of land for residential and employment-related development to the city. Another 1,877 acres will be devoted to parks, and the remaining 511 acres will be for land that is already developed or for land that is unbuildable.

The last time the city expanded its urban growth boundary was in 1992.

Matt Brinkley, Medford’s planning director, said the city will need to make some changes to its land-use laws and enact a new transportation plan before it can receive applications from developers to go through the annexation process.

“Several developers are prepared to pursue annexation as soon as possible,” he said.

Adding land to the city is no easy task, requiring a number of steps before a developer can actually build on a property. In 2015, the city proposed taking in 4,400 acres, but initially excluded a tract of land owned by Mahar Homes that would eventually link the Larson Creek Trail from the Bear Creek Greenway to Prescott Park. Eventually the city included a portion of the Mahar property.

Jones said that once the annexation applications can be filed with the city, it still may take years before a project begins and even longer before work is completed on properties, such as roads, sewers and electricity.

“The up-front costs to get a project going are staggering,” he said. “It takes millions of dollars and years of work before you get one dime back.”

Jones said Mahar hasn’t yet determined how many residential units it will build off North Phoenix Road.

He said Mahar is also working with other property owners on the employment center and has received some interest from firms considering locating there, which is between North Phoenix Road and Interstate 5.

“Between education and training sectors and clean-tech industries, we’ve had a lot of interest,” he said.

But without approvals in place, he said, it’s difficult to get any commitments.

Mahar said a South Stage overcrossing will be an important east-west connector that will make the employment center successful.

The employment center would encompass both Medford and Phoenix, though Phoenix is still working on its urban growth boundary changes.

Pacific Retirement Services has had plans for years to build about 1,200 homes at the south end of Centennial Golf Club.

Hillcrest Orchards also wants to develop a large portion of its property near North Phoenix Road.

Carole Hashimoto, president and chief executive officer of Hillcrest Corp., said she couldn’t comment on plans for the property, which currently is home to RoxyAnn Winery.

In 2015, Hillcrest Corp. filed documents with the city of Medford indicating that it plans to place 976 residential units on 223 acres.

Most of the development in the boundary expansion is occurring along Medford’s eastern boundary as well as to the south. The western side of Medford only has a few tracts of land because it adjoins high-value farmland.

Brinkley said a portion of the employment center in southern Medford could be built out without causing strain on existing streets.

“Some development can happen without the South Stage overcrossing, but not much,” Brinkley said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

On the map below, red areas show properties that will be brought into Medford's urban growth boundary and include a mix of residential, commercial and other lands. The green areas are parks. (Map courtesy of city of Medford)

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Golfers make their way down the 17th fairway at Centennial Golf Club in Medford Thursday afternoon. Plans are in the works to build 1,200 homes around the course.