Group files an appeal to halt Walmart store

MEDFORD — A citizens group opposed to the construction of a Walmart Supercenter at Miles Field has appealed the latest ruling on the project to the Oregon Supreme Court, but errors in the filing have left their appeal in limbo, at least temporarily.

A staff member at the Oregon Supreme Court records office said this morning that the filing, submitted on Tuesday, was marked "deficient" because of errors in submitting it. Medford Citizens for Responsible Development has until Dec. 22 to make corrections.

The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Nov. 4 that the city of Medford was correct in not requiring a new traffic analysis from Walmart, reversing a June 1 decision by the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

When Beaverton attorney Ken Helm filed the new appeal on behalf of the Medford group this week the document lacked the date and result of the Court of Appeals decision, leading clerks to hold the case rather than entering it into the system, the staff member said.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer has sought to build a 176,500-square-foot store adjacent to the South Gateway Shopping Center on the site of the old Miles Field for the past six years.

Ivend Holen, acting chairman of Medford Citizens for Responsible Development, said his group decided to appeal because it thought the appellate court failed to examine the merits of the Land Use Board of Appeal's judgment. LUBA essentially said the City of Medford erred in allowing Walmart to go forward with its project.

"We feel the Court of Appeals did not look at the decision made by LUBA, they just approved it on the basis they always rule for the governmental body," Holen said. "If it says they have a reason why they are interpreting the statues the way they are and that's the basis of the denial, that's one thing. We don't believe that's what the state law says. They have to look at what the statute says, when they interpret the words, the operative words were text and context, and they didn't look at text and context. It may say 'white' but we read it as black and they are not allowed to do that."

Walmart representatives were notified Wednesday of the appeal, but haven't seen the petition.

"For us it just means yet another delay in building our store," said Walmart regional spokeswoman Karianne Fallow. "Every delay comes at a cost and legal fees. That's disappointing to a lot of people who are waiting for a new shopping opportunity in Medford."

Walmart says once permits are approved, it could build the store within 10 to 12 months. The company has previously said it would hire 300 people, about 75 percent full time.

In June, LUBA agreed with Medford Citizens for Responsible Development that the city's codes failed to account for the impacts of large-scale development on traffic. The Court of Appeals, however, determined LUBA's decision was unlawful because Medford's code doesn't specify that a traffic analysis is required before development.

"We think the main reason the city is doing this is that it wants taxpayers to make several million dollars worth of street improvements," Holen said.

A new Supercenter would generate enough traffic to cause the Oregon Department of Transportation to halt future development in the area until changes are made, Holen predicted. "The city will be forced to redo the intersections to stop the resulting gridlock, and taxpayers pay for the whole shebang and Walmart is going to get a free ride."

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

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