Westminster Presbyterian Church volunteers probably would agree that rules are rules, and the city can't make an exception to allow a nonconforming use to continue on church property. But they also would be more than justified in asking, "Does 38 years of history count for nothing?"
That's how long the east Medford congregation has been cutting and stacking firewood that its volunteers haul to folks who need help heating their homes in the fall and winter months. Project Warm, as it's called, provides firewood to more than 100 households.
Without the help, recipients would have trouble heating their homes themselves because of financial hardship, physical disability or both. Volunteers haul wood twice a week from the church's stockpile to recipients as far away as Rogue River and Prospect.
An anonymous complaint from a neighbor alleged the woodpile was harboring rodents, but the real problem appears to be that the church never has had the necessary conditional use permit from the city to operate a woodlot in a residential area. Church officials say they had no idea they were violating zoning rules. Apparently, neither did the city: Parks and Recreation crews even have brought downed trees to the site. And the church, which is closest to the woodpile, doesn't have a rat problem.
Regardless of the rodent question — even if rats or mice are present, controlling them should be simple enough — the church clearly needs to get right with the city zoning rules. That shouldn't pose much of an obstacle either, provided there is no significant opposition from nearby neighbors.
To receive the necessary conditional use permit, the church would need to file an application which would be the subject of a public hearing before the Planning Commission. Beneficiaries of the firewood program, as well as neighbors, would have the opportunity to testify. The Planning Commission has the final say unless its decision is appealed to the City Council.
The alternative would be to find a new site for the woodlot. But considering the project has been operating for nearly 40 years with no apparent complaints until now, that seems an unreasonable burden for a congregation just trying to do the right thing.