Gun-shy Jackson County eases into land-use debate

Jackson County commissioners maneuvered cautiously back into the debate over new zoning that would allow more rural development after they were struck down twice on appeal.

Commissioners held a public hearing Wednesday on a proposed rural use zone that would allow development on 10-acre parcels if the landowner can prove the property had been zoned incorrectly.

About 30 residents attended the hearing. Medford City Council members John Statler and Ben Truwe said they opposed to the zoning because of the potential impact on city services, particularly transportation.

The commissioners last year approved the zoning, but the city of Ashland won appeals before the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals and the Oregon Court of Appeals. The original appeal also was brought by Brent Thompson, president of Friends of Jackson County, Ashland resident Cathy Shaw and Medford resident Porter Lombard.

"The city of Ashland said you didn't include them in the conversation," said County Counsel Doug McGeary.

He said there were other problems with a hearing held last August, but ultimately the public notice about the hearing was not correct.

Commissioner C.W. Smith said the county won't make a decision on the zoning anytime soon, adding, "We want to make sure we get this right."

Ashland Mayor John Morrison sent the commissioners a letter July 17 urging them to give his city sufficient time to make its objections understood.

Morrison said the city had received a notice from the county about the public hearing but he didn't think that was sufficient to meet statewide planning goals that were part of the city's appeal.

"Notice of a public hearing is not coordination," wrote Morrison in the letter.

He said the city wants to discuss the implications of the rural development in the wider context of the Regional Problem Solving effort that has been the subject of much discussion among cities for several years.

According to data compiled by county officials, the zone 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.

Smith discounted these estimates. "Everybody's in a twitter that we will have all this growth," he said.

McGeary said the amount of land isn't accurate. "They will never be able to divide every one of them into 10 acres," he said.

Thompson said the county hasn't yet mapped all the lands to determine what kinds of soils might be on them, so it doesn't know with assurance how much acreage would be involved. "The 2,600 could end up being a conservative number," he said.

Thompson urged the commissioners to err on the side of caution and not approve the 10-acre lots. Thompson and other opponents have said they supported a Jackson County Planning Commission recommendation to have a minimum of 20-acre lots.

He said the development just outside city limits would stress city services such as roads and emergency medical services.

Medford resident Jan Weitman said that as a successful business owner, she would welcome the traffic and didn't think the limited amount of rural development would strain city services.

"As far as sprawl goes, I see the city of Medford chewing up orchards and building houses," she said.

Dorothy Mitchell, who owns property off Dead Indian Memorial Road near Ashland, said she would like to divide her 60-acre parcel and supported the 10-acre proposal.

"This property is nontillable and nonirrigated," she said. "It's useless."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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