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Talent looks at cost of railroad crossing for stalled development

Photo courtesy cityoftalent.org

Talent city staff will continue to study costs of a railroad crossing to a subdivision development in the south part of town that was approved earlier this year.

A report given at the Nov. 3 Talent City Council session estimated it would cost $2.63 million for a street crossing at Belmont Road, which doesn’t include costs for additional right-of-way and other expenses.

Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals ruled the city must approve the subdivision application in March. Developers had sought approval for the project for multiple decades. Access to the property would be over the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad tracks, and only a government agency, not a developer, can apply to gain a crossing.

City staff would be able to get more information on costs, said City Manager Jordan Rooklyn, in response to a question by Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood.

“It’s hard to imagine the total cost of this,” said Ayers-Flood. “From my perspective, at the price tag it currently is, it’s out of reach due to our financial circumstances. It’s unfinished business at this point.”

Creation of a public crossing would be dependent upon closure of a private rail crossing nearby that serves residents already living in the area, Oregon Department of Transportation’s Rail Division has stated. Rights of way would have to be obtained to connect those residents to a new crossing, according to a report presented by Development Director Kristen Maze. Staff will not move forward with a railroad crossing application or any development agreement negotiations until directed by council, Maze wrote.

No city funds have been allocated for any costs associated with a new Belmont crossing. Jackson County, ODOT rail and CORP have stated they will not participate in funding the costs associated with closing the private crossing. In addition to construction and right-of-way expenses, costs for an application to ODOT rail are estimated to be nearly $100,000.

“I’m happy they are doing their due diligence as far as finding out the whole spectrum of it,” said Tony Nieto, who owns the property with his wife, Tory. “With new management they are reaching out and sharing information. I’m encouraged more than I was in the past, and I’m hopeful we can get something done.”

Under the LUBA ruling the project must be completed within three years, although a one-year extension is possible. Nieto says he knows the crossing is not in the city budget, but that he hopes to see the municipality use its system development charge funds to help cover expenses, and that he would be willing to fund a portion of the work.

People who spoke about the crossing advised the council that costs needed to be scrutinized and that the process would take time.

“As the report says, it does not include many significant costs that they have identified. The $2.6 million is just for the rail crossing construction and the upgrade of Belmont. That is just the beginning of the costs that the city will be committing to if they go forward with this project,” Ron Laupheimer, a resident of nearby Hilltop Road, told the council. “I would hope the council looks into these other costs before they make a decision on how to proceed one way or the other.”

The 25-acre site is located south of the railroad tracks and is surrounded by Jackson County land on three sides. The land was annexed into the city in 1990 for future development. Several development attempts since then have drawn opposition from neighbors and the community and were denied. Forty-nine residences are planned for the hillside site.

LUBA included five pages of specific conditions for development that must be met in the ruling it issued in March. Among criteria are approvals for storm water and sewer connections and approval of emergency criteria and fire provisions by Jackson County Fire District No. 5.

City officials met with representatives of the railroad and the city engineer to review the process in September. At the meeting the parties reaffirmed a January 2018 diagnostic done by the city, the railroad, Jackson County and ODOT on the private and public crossings at Belmont Road.

“I am concerned about the amount of time staff has put into this and is continuing to put into this. I think ballpark (estimates) would be adequate, and we don’t need to actually drill down to the dime,” said Council Member Eleanor Ponomareff. “Are we talking about hundreds of thousands or millions? What’s a best guesstimate? An estimated range would be the kind of information I would be looking for.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.