Court's ruling favors Ashland

The Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled against Jackson County in its bid to expand rural development, concurring with a state land-use board's opinion that the county needs to address concerns raised by the city of Ashland first.

Brent Thompson, president of Friends of Jackson County, praised the court's decision, saying it sent a clear message that the county needs to do a better job communicating with cities before making a decision.

"Do the cities get stiffed by the county or are they (county officials) going to listen to the cities?" said Thompson.

County commissioners created the new zoning, known as rural use, last year to allow owners to divide their property into 10-acre lots if they can prove their land has been zoned incorrectly.

According to data compiled by county officials, the zoning change could affect an estimated 105,000 acres (about 164 square miles) of rural land and has the potential to create 2,591 new lots of 10 acres or more.

After the county made its decision last year, an appeal was filed by the city of Ashland, Thompson, Ashland resident Cathy Shaw and Medford resident Porter Lombard.

Richard Appicello, Ashland's interim city attorney, said Ashland and other communities didn't object to the original Jackson County Planning Commission recommendation that the minimum lot size of the rural-use zoning be 20 acres and that cluster developments be encouraged to preserve open space.

"It was the (Commissioner Jack) Walker amendment that concerned us," said Appicello, referring to Walker's proposal to make the minimum lot size 10 acres. "That's what got everybody excited."

Because the amendment came so late in the process, Ashland and other cities didn't have sufficient time to work with the county to determine the ramifications of the smaller lot sizes, said Appicello.

The Land Use Board of Appeals ruled in February that the county must address concerns raised by Ashland in a Sept. 20 hearing, though county officials said at the time they were not taking any new testimony.

Ashland officials have said that more development around their border would impact city services such as roads and ambulance.

Appicello said because the county didn't sufficiently include cities in the process, it violated Oregon's land-use laws. He specifically referred to Goal 2 of the statewide planning goals and guidelines.

Walker said he thinks the county is on solid legal ground and he plans to ask other commissioners to support filing an appeal with the Oregon Supreme Court.

"We followed every possible rule to make sure we crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's," he said.

He said he believes a very small minority is trying to thwart the efforts of the county to open up additional rural land for development.

"It's a typical Ashland delay tactic that will cost us a whole lot of money," he said.

Thompson said the Walker amendment would be fiscally unsound for cities, which will have to incur additional costs of improving and maintaining roads and other services.

The cities have to get involved in this process and "the county cannot just do whatever the heck they want," he said. "Hopefully what this will do is open up the dialogue with all the cities and the county commissioners."

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