Curt Chancler shut down his transmission shop over an ongoing feud with Jackson County officials who couldnít find records that he has been conducting a commercial business on the one-acre property. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

Shifting Gears

After 40 years, Curt Chancler's transmission shop in an old metal building at 6865 Table Rock Road has ground to a halt.

Chancler, 71, has been battling with Jackson County officials who eventually ordered him to cease operations and demanded he get a permit for a non-conforming use — because he was conducting a commercial business on the one-acre, residentially zoned property.

"This is the damndest thing I've ever seen in my life," Chancler said.

He said he's fixed transmissions for years at the site, including for county road vehicles.

"For 35 years, the county had been one of my largest customers," he said.

He said he opened his business on Feb. 3, 1972, in a time before land-use laws had many teeth.

In the past month, Chancler sent the county a letter threatening legal action for what he sees as infringement of his constitutional rights to a jury trial.

County officials initially said the burden is on Chancler to prove that the business existed before 1973. But county Hearings Officer Donald Rubenstein on Nov. 8, 2011, acknowledged that Chancler had been operating a business on the property since 1972.

In his ruling, Rubenstein said the county administrator and other county officials have attempted to persuade Chancler to file an application for a nonconforming use. Rubenstein noted that Chancler has insisted the county has no authority to force him to file the application.

Rubenstein determined on Dec. 6, 2011, that Chancler would have to file an application for a nonconforming use on his property. Rubenstein ordered a $600 fine and ordered Chancler to cease operations at his business.

To obtain the permit, Chancler would have to pay $1,665 to process the application, but he's balked at the idea, preferring to keep his doors shut.

Chancler said he's renting space from another transmission shop in Central Point while he battles the county in a dispute he expects to win.

"If they lose these lawsuits, I'll be living in some of their homes," he warned.

Chancler has sent county commissioners and other officials letters charging they are stepping on his and other property owners' rights under both the Oregon and U.S. constitutions.

He said he's entitled to a jury trial rather than just a review by the hearings officer.

County commissioners had hoped to resolve the dispute before Chancler closed his shop.

"Originally, I thought he was just grandfathered in," Commissioner John Rachor said. "I wish it could just be solved. I really like the guy."

But Rachor learned that the common perception of "grandfathered" land-use issues is a misperception.

He said Chancler would have to pay the permit fee to get the matter cleared up.

"We never do waive a fee," he said.

Rachor said the county can't offer jury trials every time a citizen has a beef about an issue.

"We can't give everybody a jury trial for a burned-out taillight or a dog license," he said.

Rachor said the county probably would have never done anything about Chancler's shop, but a neighbor complained, and the county is required to investigate neighbor complaints.

"He's mad at the county, and he really needs to be mad at his neighbors," he said.

Rachor said the issue could be resolved quickly if Chancler paid the fee, but he understands that Chancler wants to make a statement.

"It's just the principle of the situation that he's worried about, and that's what's great about our country," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email

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