Lawsuits challenge Ashland planning decisions

ASHLAND — Half of the 14 lawsuits pending against the city are challenges to local planning decisions filed by a pair of community activists who claim City Hall is fraught with corruption.

When it comes to planning ordinances, the city routinely breaks or skirts its regulations to give advantage to "the right people" while they are enforced for "the wrong people," including those perceived as City Hall gadflies, said Philip Lang, who is suing the city along with Art Bullock.

"Ashland is a hick town with pretense, but Ashland is more dangerous than any hick town because it pretends it's enlightened," said Lang, a community activist and retired social worker.

In a telephone interview Monday, Lang said real estate agents, housing "speculators" and developers are among the "self-appointed economic elite who run the show" in town, particularly the planning process, he said.

Among the lawsuits Bullock and Lang have filed, three challenge local improvement districts — two along Nevada Street and one on Schofield Street — in which residents and businesses would be taxed for street and sidewalk maintenance.

There is also a challenge to the final plans for a 4.34-acre housing subdivision on the historic Helman Baths property on Otis Street and a lawsuit to curb development at Glenn and North Main streets.

Ashland City Administrator Martha Bennett said the seven Bullock lawsuits could potentially cost the city $170,000 to litigate.

"It won't be that much, but it will be in the $100,000 range for all of these suits," Bennett said, noting that cases that reach the Land Use Board of Appeals cost the city about $25,000 to defend.

City Councilman Russ Silbiger, a member of the Citizens' Budget Committee, said he expects the city will ultimately pay considerably more money than that fighting the lawsuits — all of which he said lack merit.

"I don't know what his motivations are, but he has yet to win a case, and when he loses a case he files an appeal," Silbiger said. "The legal results so far have been in the city's favor and I expect that to continue."

Interim City Attorney Richard Appicello said in two of the pending cases the city has requested that it be paid for its legal costs.

On Monday, Lang and Bullock went before a Jackson County judge after a developer asked that Lang and Bullock pay his legal fees for a case relating to the Park Street condominium conversions that Lang and Bullock lost, but are appealing.

"At this point we have lost the lawsuit at the Circuit Court level because the judge didn't pay attention, but I believe we will win it on appeal," said Lang, adding that the lawsuits are not costing him and Bullock "anything" except for filing fees.

"The fact of the matter is that I have no personal interest in this except for the public interest," Lang said. Bullock could not be reached for comment.

Lang said their push for the "common good" has come at a steep price. Among other things, there have been death threats against those who buck the city's planning process, he said.

He pointed to an "assassination poster" that he claims has recently appeared around town, saying: "Wanted Dead or Alive for the Murder of Ashland." He said the poster listed 12 individuals, including three City Council members, three "progressive" planning commissioners and community activists, including himself and Bullock.

"Art Bullock is a person who lives like a mouse in a wall, in poverty, so he can protect the public interest," Lang said. "This has nothing to do with personal gain."

Chris Rizo covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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