The city of Medford's failure to keep Table Rock Park open to the public means the property should revert to Jackson County ownership, a Jackson County Circuit Court jury decided Thursday.
The dispute over control of the 7.5-acre park arose when the city gave exclusive access to the park to Cascade Christian High School for a majority of daylight hours. Cascade Christian used the park primarily for sports activities.
The verdict, reached after two days of testimony this week before a 12-member jury, could end a two-year legal debate over ownership of the park, which is adjacent to the private high school on Chevy Way in northeast Medford.
Jackson County claimed the city and Cascade Christian had blocked the entrance to the park at times in 2009 when it was supposed to remain open to the public.
The jury sided with the county in finding the city violated a deed restriction by entering into an agreement with Cascade Christian that gave it exclusive access to the property 65 percent of the time in the school year during daylight hours.
As part of its agreement with the city, Cascade Christian invested more than $156,000 in improvements at the park. The jury decided the school is entitled to reimbursement from the county for the improvements.
Ryan Kirchoff, an attorney representing Jackson County, said the county has always maintained that the school should be reimbursed for the improvements.
"We are pleased the county prevailed, and the county is looking forward to having the Table Rock Property back into its park inventory," Kirchoff stated in an email.
County Administrator Danny Jordan said the verdict affirms the county's position that the city of Medford violated the deed restriction.
Jordan said the county Board of Commissioners hopes to work out a solution in which the school could continue to use the park in some manner. One option is for the school to find a similar piece of property that it could trade for the park.
"The board indicated it strongly wants to work with Cascade Christian to remedy this situation," Jordan said.
The county will ask the court for a stay of judgment to allow time for the county and Cascade Christian to resolve the issue, Jordan said.
"We will ask to maintain the status quo until we can meet with Cascade Christian to facilitate a positive outcome for both parties," he said.
The county purchased the property in 1982 using federal Land and Water Conservation Funds. In 1984, the county transferred the property to the city with deed restrictions.
The National Park Service also questioned the exclusive use agreement between the city and Cascade Christian, warning the city that such actions could threaten future grants involving Land and Water Conservation Funds.
City officials previously have acknowledged the lease agreement with Cascade Christian violated federal rules, but maintained the violation was an oversight. Access to the park is through Cascade Christian's parking lot.
The Medford City Attorney's Office declined to say whether it would consider an appeal, referring any questions on the verdict to the attorney representing Cascade Christian.
Tim Jackle, attorney representing Cascade Christian with the law firm of Foster Denman LLP, said part of the lawsuit was a separate request for damages for the investment the school made at the park.
"We're pleased the jury saw fit to give us that judgment," he said. "They awarded all the damages we requested."
Jackle said the school hasn't held games on the property, though it has used it for football practice.
"Because we don't know the status of this situation, we've made other arrangements with the city of Medford," Jackle said. Going forward into the future, we will continue to work with our trusted partner, the city of Medford."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email email@example.com.