County cracks down on Wimer vacation ranch

WIMER — Life used to be a whole lot better at the Life is Good Ranch.

Derek and Jennifer Davis have rented their 15-acre rural property out for $300 to $900 a night, offering a pond, pool, a small nine-hole chipping and putting green as well as a 1,400-square-foot game room complete with bar, pool table, karaoke machine and 70-inch television.

Now Jackson County officials, acting on a complaint from a neighbor, have told the couple they can't use the house to the west of Wimer as a vacation rental because it violates county code.

"We don't want to lose the ranch," 49-year-old Derek Davis said. "We can't afford the mortgage on it or the expenses on the property itself."

On Feb. 24, Donald Rubenstein, Jackson County hearings officer, fined Davis $1,200, but suspended payment on half of the amount. Davis and his wife rent a house in Medford along with their two teenage boys.

Rubenstein ruled the ranch can't be used for commercial activities because it is zoned woodland resource.

On the website, the ranch is available as a retreat.

"The use has included weddings and large weekend and holiday gatherings at which people camp on the property and hold loud parties that include amplified music and 'screaming' associated with the use of a zip-line," Rubenstein wrote in his ruling. A zip-line allows someone to traverse a forest suspended by a cable.

Rubenstein also concluded Davis failed to receive a permit to excavate a pond on the property.

Davis' attorney, Sydnee Dreyer of Huycke, O'Connor, Jarvis & Lohman, LLP in Medford, plans to appeal Rubenstein's ruling to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

"The only way they can hang onto the property is if they can rent the property," said Dreyer. "Now, because of this decision, they will be turning their property over to the bank."

She said her clients have found 465 vacation rentals throughout the county advertised on the Internet. She said it is unclear how many of these rental properties are within a resource zone.

Dreyer said the implications of the hearings officer's decision would prohibit vacation or short-term rentals on resource land homes throughout the county.

Davis, who runs a financial planning business, said he moved to Medford to provide better schooling for his two boys.

He said he and his wife have scaled back their finances because of the downturn in the economy.

On the website, they have reservations booked into November at the ranch.

Some of the reservations are donated to groups such as Grace Christian School, he said. In November, a Grants Pass man wants to celebrate his 80th birthday on the ranch. A group of women also want to hold a scrapbook party.

Two weddings are scheduled for this summer, so Davis is a little worried that he'll have to confront a couple of "bridezillas."

Davis said he started out lending the house to friends who felt guilty about borrowing it and started giving him money. He said the renting began in April 2009.

Once his two boys move out, Davis said he and his wife plan to move back to the Wimer house.

On Monday, Davis said he has until the end of the month to stop using the ranch as a vacation rental.

Meanwhile, the calls keep coming in to see whether it can be rented.

"This morning somebody from West Virginia called to say they wanted to bring the family out here," he said.

Damian Mann is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4476 or e-mail

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