The sidewalk near Apple and Fourth streets, bordering land previously owned by the Medford Urban Renewal Agency and recently sold to Lithia Real Estate Inc., is cracked and crumbling. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

Sidewalk dispute: They're picking on me

Medford officials have taken photos of cracked and buckled sidewalks around the Sam Jennings Company building next to The Commons as part of a recent crackdown on possible code violations at the business.

Dan Reisinger, who runs Sam Jennings, returned the favor and filed a complaint against the entire sidewalk along the west side of Apple Street across from The Commons, because it is crumbling and overrun with weeds.

"I think they shouldn't just pick on me," said Reisinger. "The sidewalks across the street are just as bad."

The Reisinger family is descended from Sam Jennings, who started the business in 1923, eventually moving to the distinctive white building often referred to as the "Alamo" at the corner of Fourth Street and North Riverside Avenue.

Last week, Medford City Council discussed code violations at the business but didn't describe them in any detail, though police and fire officials have prepared a report on the violations that will be presented to the owners. The sidewalk issue is being handled by Medford Public Works.

The Apple Street properties are owned by Lithia Real Estate Inc., but one of the properties, at the corner of Apple and Fourth streets, was owned by the Medford Urban Renewal Agency until July 3, when it was sold to Lithia.

The property on the corner has been used to store construction materials during the building of The Commons. The properties to the north are fenced off and are planned to be turned into a parking lot for Lithia. At one time, the entire block was slated to be a third park as part of The Commons, but MURA canceled the project.

Other nearby sidewalks at the southeast corner of Fourth and Central Avenue also are in bad shape, though they are scheduled for replacement as part of an intersection renovation project.

Medford police Sgt. Ben Lytle said the sidewalk issue at the Sam Jennings building is separate from a review of other possible code violations.

"Our review is complete," he said. "We're looking at an opportunity to meet with the business owner."

Reisinger said he would be tied up until after the holiday weekend so he wouldn't have the chance to meet with Lytle until then.

Reisinger said he doesn't think the underlying issue is really the code violations but suspects someone wants to obtain the land now that The Commons is almost finished.

Reisinger, who has been cleaning up the property since city officials came to look at his property recently, said he believes the majority of complaints are coming from Mayor Gary Wheeler.

Wheeler said he would prefer to wait until the city compiles its list of code violations before discussing the situation any further.

"I will pass on any comment at this point," he said.

Wheeler said he was adhering to Deputy City Attorney Kevin McConnell's admonition to not discuss the issue until the code violations have been spelled out.

Previously Wheeler said the city was not engaging in any behind-closed-doors activities in relationship to the Sam Jennings business.

Cory Crebbin, Public Works director, said, "We are not picking on Sam Jennings. We are just responding to a complaint like any other complaint."

Crebbin said the city also will investigate the complaint filed against the Lithia properties.

Maintenance and repair of sidewalks in the city is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, Crebbin said.

He said the sidewalks on Fourth near Central would be replaced during the reconstruction of that intersection scheduled for 2014.

Crebbin said the city does receive complaints about sidewalks in front of city properties. He said the city is required to repair those sidewalks if they are found to be defective.

Sid DeBoer, Lithia Motors chairman, said he would rather the city just leave the Jennings property alone. He said Lithia has had a good business relationship with Sam Jennings for 40 years.

"We're all on his side," he said. "We'd love them to sell it or do whatever they want to do with that property. I can't see there's any benefit in harassing him."

On the other hand, DeBoer said he would like to see the Jennings property cleaned up.

Lithia plans to create a parking lot on nine properties between Bartlett and Apple, north of Fourth Street, he said.

During the construction of the parking lot, the sidewalks would be replaced at Lithia's expense, DeBoer said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.

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