Ashland benefits from land decision

The Jackson County Commissioners' recent decision not to pursue its minimum 10-acre rural-use lot size will save Ashland taxpayers money, city officials said.

"The county took the right step," Mayor John Morrison said in an interview Friday.

The city, he said, would have been expected to provide services for developments that backed up to the city's borders while receiving no property tax revenues to cover the added expenses.

"That would be a very direct impact," Morrison said, adding that the decision will be equally criticized by those who feel that they ought to be able to outright develop their land and by those who want little or no development of open space.

The 10-acre minimum, approved in 2006, was successfully challenged by the city of Ashland, which took its procedural complaint to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals and the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Following the recommendation of the county Planning Commission and cities including Ashland, the county's three-member executive board in a divided vote on Nov. 28 decided to jettison the 10-acre rule and instead approve an ordinance requiring 20-acre rural minimums.

Ashland City Councilor Kate Jackson said the rule would have strained the city's fire and ambulance services.

"Then there is the increase in traffic on the roads, and all that extra traffic would come into one of Ashland's two freeway interchanges," said Jackson, the council liaison to the city Planning Commission.

She noted also that the cost to support individual houses on a mile or two of road is "vastly higher" than for a home that shares a lot with 10 other homes on the same piece of road.

"Taxpayers pay for all of that in one way or another," Jackson said, "and it's more expensive when it's rural." Commissioner Dennis C.W. Smith originally supported the 10-acre minimum, but said he wanted to err on the side of caution and approve the 20-acre minimums to avoid future legal challenges.

"He was fair when he was saying let's try it this way and if it doesn't work this way we can reevaluate it," Jackson said of Smith's support for the 20-acre minimum.

Commissioner Dave Gilmour, the only Democrat on the board, also supported the 20-acre minimum. The lone dissenting vote came from Commissioner Jack Walker, whom Mayor Morrison called "a staunch resister of planning for the most part." Brent Thompson, president of Friends of Jackson County, said the commissioners made the right decision, one that will prevent a traffic increase on already strained local roadways.

A county ordinance allowing for 10-acre lot minimums could have, under the worst case scenario, led to an additional 9,000 parcels in the county and about 90,000 more vehicle trips a year, said Thompson, a former Ashland city councilor and planning commissioner.

Thompson noted also that new development doesn't pay for itself. State law, he said, prohibits systems development charges to pay for additional police, fire, school and library facilities.

"So, taxpayers would have to subsidize this development," Thompson said. " having less development out in the county there will be less of a fiscal impact on the cities."

covers government for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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