LUBA ruling stalls building of new home near Ashland

When Chris Sturdevant and his wife bought a 5-acre property in rural Ashland in 2004, they were set to build their dream home.

Six years later, the Sturdevants have found out the hard way that Jackson County's information about the residential zoning of the property may be wrong, at least according to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

The Sturdevants have appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals and have hired Dave Hunnicutt of Oregonians in Action to handle their case.

With the land in limbo, the Sturdevants don't know what will become of their $250,000 investment off Old Highway 99. LUBA maintains the land has the more restrictive exclusive-farm-use zoning, meaning the Sturdevants can't build on the property.

"It is extremely frustrating," said Chris Sturdevant. "It can end up costing somebody a lot of money and a lot of headaches."

Sturdevant, who lives close to the property, said he's liked that area of rural Ashland since he was a child.

Hunnicutt said the Sturdevants received a written response from the county about the zoning before purchasing the property.

"Here's a property owner that did everything the right way," he said.

Hunnicutt said the county passed an ordinance in 2004 that clearly indicates the property is zoned rural residential. County records currently still show the residential zoning on the parcel.

"Our beef with LUBA is they misinterpreted the county's ordinance," he said. "LUBA is saying the county didn't mean what they said."

Hunnicutt said a Jackson County hearings officer earlier determined the property was rezoned as rural residential after going through the complicated process of passing the ordinance.

LUBA, in its ruling, agreed that a map approved by the county shows the property was rezoned from exclusive farm use to rural residential.

However, LUBA found inconsistencies in the wording of the ordinance that conflicted with what was represented on the map. LUBA found other inconsistencies in language within the ordinance as well.

In one sentence, the ordinance states the maps will be the controlling factor in any dispute over zoning. In another sentence, the ordinance states the maps "will be made by planning staff."

LUBA found the two sentences in conflict because the maps that were going to be prepared by planning staff were not the same maps approved with the ordinance.

In its concluding comments, LUBA found the county also never justified why it didn't follow state rules in attempting to rezone the property.

This is not the first time the property and issues over zoning have come before the land-use board. In 2004, LUBA rejected the county's efforts to rezone the property from exclusive farm use.

Gary Turner, who challenged the Sturdevants' claim along with Ashland resident Chris Skrepetos, said he wouldn't comment on the LUBA decision. Skrepetos also said he wouldn't comment.

Hunnicutt said he would be pursuing two legal avenues for his client.

The first is the appeal that he's already filed, and the second is to ask Jackson County commissioners to reaffirm that the map they approved in 2004 correctly represents the zoning.

Hunnicutt said the ordinance and the map were not challenged in 2004.

"Once the map is adopted the time to challenge has come and gone," he said.

LUBA agreed the time has passed to challenge the ordinance, but determined that in its reading of the ordinance it was never established that the Sturdevants' property underwent a legal zoning change.

"The parties have largely succeeded in making a relatively straightforward case exceedingly complicated," LUBA wrote.

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

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