Medford, Walmart to appeal LUBA decision LUBASupercenter decision

MEDFORD — Walmart and the City Council have decided they will both file separate appeals against a state land board's ruling that put the brakes on a proposed Supercenter and could affect new commercial development within the city.

City Council members voted unanimously Thursday to challenge the Land Use Board of Appeals decision, saying it didn't give the city enough deference in interpreting its own development codes.

At the same time, council members worried about the implications of the ruling that could require traffic studies on future commercial development.

"This could close down some of our construction in the near future," said Coucilman Dick Gordon. "I'm serious when I say that."

LUBA agreed with Medford Citizens for Responsible Development in a June 1 ruling, saying the Medford development code fails to account for the impacts of a large-scale development on traffic. For the past six years, Walmart has attempted to build a 176,500-square-foot store adjacent to the South Gateway shopping center on the site of the old Miles Field.

In a letter dated June 18, Greg Hathaway, a Portland attorney representing Walmart, stated, "We disagree with LUBA's decision that throws out your City Council's interpretation and intend to appeal this decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals."

Hathaway suggested the city also make changes in the development code to strengthen the city's current interpretation, while urging the city to challenge the ruling.

Hathaway said the city needs to appeal — otherwise previous development reviews could be construed as violating the city's

city's rules.

City Attorney John Huttl said LUBA's decision could be problematic. "That interpretation of our code is contrary to how the city has been doing this for the past 25 years," he said.

Council members agreed the city needs to fast-track possible changes to its development code because delaying could dampen development. They will be looking into the possibility of triggering a traffic study if enough time has passed from a zoning change, or if enough development has taken place in a particular area to warrant a new transportation study.

Medford Citizens for Responsible Development condemned the council's action Thursday. In a press release prepared before the council's vote, the citizens group stated, "The Medford city government and the City Council, with its vote today, has shown that it supports the financial interests of Walmart, the largest corporation in the world, over the interests of the citizens who voted them into office."

Rich Rohde of Medford Citizens said he thinks Walmart wants to avoid a traffic study because a Supercenter would have a big impact on local roads and produce more gridlock in an area that already is gridlocked at times.

"It would look like Walmart is going to extreme lengths to avoid doing a traffic study," he said. "They could have built this four years ago if they had said they wanted to go ahead with the traffic study."

Rohde said his group estimates the Supercenter would bring up to 10,000 vehicle trips a day, but Walmart doesn't want to pay the cost to improve local roads to handle the extra traffic.

He said it is unclear to him whether the city wants to change its ordinance in a way that would be beneficial to Walmart, or change it to account for concerns over increased traffic from new development.

Council member Bob Strosser said the city has a large investment in the South Gateway shopping area as well as the $70 million south Medford interchange. He said it doesn't make sense to him that the city doesn't have some way in its development codes to insist that a new traffic study be done if enough time has passed on a project, or if the project would impact the development the city already has.

"Are our codes sufficient to protect our community?" said Strosser.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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