County weighs Circle of Teran appeal

An Ashland church known as the Circle of Teran has won another victory in its quest to establish a church on land zoned for exclusive farm use.

The Oregon Court of Appeals last week affirmed a decision by the Land Use Board of Appeals that overturned Jackson County efforts to block the group's use of a large existing house as a church.

"All they want to do is practice their religion — but they are not allowed to," said Ross Day, an attorney representing the Circle of Teran.

State land-use laws prohibit new church construction on land zoned for exclusive farm use that lies within three miles of an urban-growth boundary, but the laws allow other community-based uses such as golf courses and public parks.

LUBA determined that the distinction violates the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, also known as RLUIPA.

Owners of the 96-acre property, Scott and Sulara Young, observe a religious tradition developed by the Huichol Indians of Mexico. Scott Young is a plastic surgeon and shaman. His wife, also known as Robin James, practices massage therapy at his office.

They call the ranch Circle of Teran in memory of a son who died at birth, and they have said they were guided to the proposed church site by spiritual forces.

The Circle of Teran, at 3300 Butler Creek Road, is 2.2 miles from Ashland's urban-growth boundary in a straight line across land zoned for exclusive farm use.

Day, who was formerly an attorney for Oregonians in Action, a property-rights group, said the Court of Appeals ruling came down without an opinion, which he said lends greater support for the arguments in the original LUBA decision.

"There is absolutely nothing of substance to the county's appeal," he said.

If no further appeal is made by the county, Day said, "They will be able to practice their religion."

The ongoing battle that the Youngs have had over their land has been difficult, Day said.

"They've had their belief system questioned," he said. "They've had their motivations questioned. People have basically told them 'We don't believe you.' "

Jackson County Commissioner Dave Gilmour said the county will sit down with its attorneys to decide whether to appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court. The county has 35 days to decide whether to appeal to the state's highest court, which could choose not the review the case.

"As far as any appeals above and beyond what we've already done, we haven't discussed it," Gilmour said.

Mounting a further legal effort is something the county will weigh seriously, he said.

"It looks like it is going to be very expensive," he said.

Gilmour said it is difficult for the county to take on opponents who have deep pockets and can spend years pursuing their case.

He said allowing a church within the three-mile zone could be devastating to farmland.

Once churches start popping up, he said it inevitably will lead to complaints about spraying or other agricultural work.

"That could have a major impact on agriculture in the valley," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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