Wal-Mart pursues 1 Medford store, delays other

Wal-Mart is pressing ahead on its legal fight to build a supercenter in south Medford but has tabled plans to expand its store at the north end of the city.

A hearing on Wal-Mart's planned supercenter at the former Miles Field on South Pacific Highway goes before the state Land Use Board of Appeals next week. If the store is successful in making its case, work could begin on the new store by summer 2010.

The six-year-old process was appealed to LUBA by opponents who said an appropriate traffic study wasn't performed before the Medford City Council approved the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer's plan for a 176,500-square-foot store.

Separately, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said Monday expansion plans for the north Medford Wal-Mart, approved by the city last November, have been set aside.

"At this point, we're just focused on the Miles Field project," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karianne Fallow said. "The economy has changed since we initially started on the development agreement."

Medford City Attorney John Huttl said Monday he believes LUBA will rule in favor of the city on the current appeal. LUBA would have to find "clear violations of the (city) ordinance" to overturn the decision, he said.

Under LUBA's rules, it will consider whether the city was inconsistent with the language of its regulations, with the purposes of its regulations or the underlying policies.

A citizens' group, Medford Citizens for Responsible Development, has fought the proposed store for more than five years. The group appealed a previous city approval after the city barred members from speaking at a site-plan hearing in November 2005. LUBA ruled the city should have allowed the residents to address traffic issues.

Members of the group were allowed to speak at following hearings, but again appealed when the city approved the Wal-Mart plans last summer.

"We wouldn't go to LUBA if we didn't have a strong case," said Wendy Siporen, a leader of the effort to block Wal-Mart. "The Medford code is very clear, requiring a traffic study."

She said there was no specific intersection her group was concerned about.

"It will affect intersections for about a mile around, some worse than others," Siporen said. "When you add that many vehicle trips per day, they are all going to be impacted."

Huttl said LUBA had 77 days from the time it received documents on the appeal to render a decision, although it could ask for more time. Case materials were turned in March 9, meaning the decision may come out the last week of May.

That doesn't mean there would be immediate action on building the new store if approval is given.

"Once they make the decision, then it would be 10 or 12 months after we started moving dirt before there would be a grand opening," Fallow said. "So the earliest would be late summer 2010."

Wal-Mart and the city of Medford had reached an agreement in November to expand its north Medford store on Crater Lake Highway from 127,000 square feet to more than 150,000 square feet. As part of the agreement, the store would have paid for a portion of street improvements in the area.

But the weak economy apparently has put that, and numerous other Wal-Mart projects, on hold. Bill Wertz, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the world's largest retail chain has scaled back its growth plans from 300 stores annually to 200, while it works on remodeling older units. He said there were no plans to expand the Talent store.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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