A nine-year effort that could add 8,800 acres to local cities for future growth reached a milestone Wednesday when Jackson County commissioners voted to sign off on a pivotal agreement even as they were warned about the possibility of an appeal.

A nine-year effort that could add 8,800 acres to local cities for future growth reached a milestone Wednesday when Jackson County commissioners voted to sign off on a pivotal agreement even as they were warned about the possibility of an appeal.

"This is a momentous decision for a county as diverse as ours," said Commissioner C.W. Smith. "Now's the time to move ahead."

Known as the Greater Bear Creek Valley Regional Problem Solving, the plan's goal is to map out how cities can expand their boundaries to accommodate a doubling of the population under a complicated process dictated by state law. Currently, the cities have about 30,000 acres total.

The county will have a first reading of an ordinance adopting the participant agreement at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 12, followed by a second reading at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Jackson County Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave.

At the second reading, officials from the county and the cities of Phoenix, Medford, Central Point, Eagle Point, Ashland and Talent will officially sign the final version of the agreement.

The city of Jacksonville bowed out of the process after officials there complained about the way the regional effort was being conducted.

Greg Holmes of 1000 Friends of Oregon urged the county to find some way of bringing Jacksonville back into the process or risk having it challenged legally.

"You face the high probability there will be an appeal to the final plan," he said.

He urged commissioners to forget about signing the participant agreement until a later date.

About a dozen people attended the public hearing participant agreement.

Smith told Holmes later in the meeting that county legal staff has spent considerable time making sure everything has been done in the right way.

John Renz, regional representative for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, said, "I have to pretty much rebut everything Greg Holmes has told you."

He said the regional process is at a crucial point. With an agreement among all the cities, the county can then go through complicated changes to its land-use regulations before the process is ultimately adopted.

"I would encourage you to sign it," said Renz.

The county and cities have put together a legal defense fund.

Katy Mallams, a resident of rural Central Point, said she doesn't agree with using hundreds of acres of farmland to create an urban reserve around cities, particularly Central Point. About 1,200 acres of high-quality farmland would be needed to accommodate the growth of the cities.

"I think it is premature to sign this agreement now because it has serious flaws," she said.

Bill Hoke, Medford deputy city manager, said Medford was the first to sign onto the agreement.

He said that by signing the agreement it moves the process forward, but isn't an end unto itself. "It gets everybody on the bus to prepare for the journey," Hoke said.

As the regional plan stands, Hoke said it would ensure uniform agricultural buffers, coordinate transportation planning, provide buffers between communities and help communities prepare their infrastructure for the future.

Commissioners had no reservations about the participant agreement.

Commissioner Jack Walker said the complexity of the regional problem-solving process is beyond what anyone first thought. He said he's hoping that the plan will ultimately get broad appeal.

"Hopefully, we will come together with a plan that will satisfy everybody," he said.

Commissioner Dave Gilmour said there will be ample time for the public to comment on what he referred to as a "worthy" process.

"A huge amount of farmland will be preserved forever," he said.

He said other regional-growth plans have failed throughout the state.

"This is the only regional problem solving left in the state," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.