Phyllis Smith and other residents of Ashland Acres Road are contesting a Measure 37 claim that would potentially put some 137 houses on the 242 acres of land pictured behind her on the hillside east of Ashland.

Controversial claim

ASHLAND — A surprised and angry group of neighbors is wondering how a dead man could get approval from Jackson County for a Measure 37 claim last year.

"I didn't know dead people could even file Measure 37 claims," said Janet Turner. "We're definitely in a state of shock over here."

The mother of two, along with other residents adjacent to Ashland Acres Road near Ashland, just found out last week that the state of Oregon is considering a claim filed by Rebecca Force for the estate of her father, William Pierson, who died on Jan. 1, 2003, almost two years before Measure 37 became law.

Jackson County approved the Pierson estate's claim last October. The county agreed with Eugene Attorney David Force, Rebecca Force's husband, who contends that because the land hasn't been divided and still falls under the William Pierson estate, the county should recognize the legitimacy of the claim.

But the state doesn't appear to buy that argument.

"We will deny the claim," said John Renz, regional representative for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. "The guy is dead. He doesn't have a claim."

Renz said in other Measure 37 cases in which somebody died during the claim application, the entire process also died.

"I was in the middle of writing up a claim when the attorney said, 'By the way, the guy passed away,' " said Renz. "That was the end of writing the staff report."

In Douglas County, a man received state approval for a claim, then died before the county claim could be approved, also ending the process, Renz said.

Under Measure 37, approved by 61 percent of voters in November 2004, government agencies must waive offending land-use regulations within six months of receiving a claim or pay the property owner compensation for value lost as a result of the land-use regulations.

A map of the 242-acre Pierson property shows that 137 lots would be created along with roads on both sides of Interstate 5. The proposed subdivision is just outside the borders of Ashland, north of East Main Street.

Turner said neighbors have only two weeks to respond to a letter received from the state, which she said gives very little time to mount an effective opposition.

She said the proposed subdivision will have a detrimental impact on Ashland Acres Road, which will provide one of the primary accesses.

The road is owned by 82-year-old Phyllis Smith and her husband, 80-year-old Harold Smith. Phyllis Smith said they bought their property on Feb. 3, 1951.

"We don't want any more traffic," she said.

Turner wondered how developers of the Pierson property could contemplate using the non-paved Ashland Acres Road when there is only an easement across it for four properties.

"This is Mrs. Smith's road," Turner said. "It's like taking somebody else's property."

Water is also a concern for neighbors.

Winfield Turner, Janet's husband, said a neighbor punched in a well several years ago and Turner's well went dry temporarily.

Another neighbor, Kermit Compeau, said that if the subdivision is built, "there's not going to be any water left for anybody."

He's also concerned about traffic along the quiet country road and the pollution from septic systems near Bear Creek.

David Force said the Pierson properties have the right to develop a 60-foot-wide easement on the north side of the freeway. "There is no problem with easements," he said.

Force said the Pierson estate has no plans to develop the property, but will just sell off parcels to individuals or developers.

"We are going to sell it for the maximum amount we can get for it," he said.

Under the current farmland zoning, Force said the property is worth $600,000, according to an appraisal he's received. It would be worth $20 million if it can be subdivided as proposed, he said.

Force said he was surprised the state sent notification to nearby property owners, something Jackson County doesn't do. "I've talked to other people who had claims pending and none of their neighbors got any notification," he said.

In the case of Measure 37 claims, Force said, "I don't know what public opinion has to do with it."

Doug McGeary, attorney for the county, said the Pierson case is different than others in which someone died.

David Force said that the property hadn't been deeded or distributed to anyone after Pierson's death, but remains in the control of the personal representative. The property isn't transferred or conveyed to anyone, Force said in documents supplied to the county.

McGeary said he couldn't come up with a better argument to refute Force's assertion, so he recommended the county approve the claim.

But McGeary doesn't expect the state to come to the same conclusion.

"If it comes to the state of Oregon, I'm probably rowing upstream," he said. "We may end up finding our interpretation is wrong."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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