Rest area proposed

Neighbors list light, noise, safety and crime as their top reasons for not embracing Oregon Department of Transportation's plans for a new Siskiyou Welcome Center and Rest Area.

The 18-acre center, situated between mile markers 12 and 13 on the northbound side of I-5, will be a vehicle-only facility. ODOT is proposing upgrading the weigh station near mile marker 17 with a restroom facility for semi trucks.

Allen Baker, new president of the Oak Knoll Meadows neighborhood association, sent an e-mail to the Tidings saying neighbors are worried about drug dealing, prostitution and panhandling, which he said are problems at the southbound rest area near Talent.

Brian Powers, lieutenant with the Oregon State Police, said the department does get a fair amount of calls to the Suncrest Rest Area.

"It's mostly for camping and lewd behavior," he said. "Rest areas have been known to attract people who conduct criminal activity; but as a general rule, they are pretty safe and secure places to go."

Powers said state troopers do their best to be visible at rest areas to try and cut down on criminal activity.

John Weisenger, owner of Weisenger's Winery, just built a 1,000-square-foot, multi-tiered deck off of his tasting room, with a perfect view of the proposed welcome center.

"The landscaping is designed to block the view of the highway &

once it grows in," he said, adding that the greenery probably wouldn't do anything to block out the noise of semi-trucks jake-braking.

"In my opinion, the welcome center would probably be very good for my business," said Weisenger. "However, I'm very supportive of my neighbors and they have really strong concerns that this would negatively impact them."

Rick Sultan lives above Weisenger's vineyard. He's concerned about the lights, idling trucks and safety issues.

"It would have been better to put in a golf course. This is ridiculous," he said, referring to Dom Provost's proposed golf resort in the same spot; but Jackson County Commissioners voted against the application.

Tim Fletcher, project manager for ODOT, said the transportation department bought the property and proposed a rest area in the same spot in the 1990s.

"It didn't pass because neighbors were concerned about the lights and the noise from idling trucks," he said. "So we're addressing those issues by upgrading the Port of Entry with a restroom facility for semi trucks."

Fletcher said he's still waiting to hear from the federal highway commission to make sure they can do that.

He also said the proposed welcome center would include new lights that are shrouded around the luminary. "So the light will go straight down rather than into the atmosphere."

"We listened to neighbors' concerns and have offered an alternative," said Fletcher.

Both Weisenger and Sultan thought it would be a better idea to have the welcome center closer to the Port of Entry.

Craig Anderson, with the Jackson County planning department, said he had received about 50 comments from the public. He is preparing a staff recommendation report that could be ready by Thursday.

A public hearing will be held at the Jackson County Planning Commission meeting Feb. 28 at 9 a.m. at the Jackson County Court House, 10 S. Oakdale, Medford.

Reach reporter at 482-3456 x226 .

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