TALENT — A tentative county ruling made public Wednesday would allow Mountain View Paving's asphalt plant to continue to operate, but at least two appeals are planned.
The Jackson County Development Services staff found, based on ordinances, that the plant can remain where it is because the use existed before current zoning laws came into effect.
The ruling limits hours of operation, sets conditions and does not authorize expansion.
Nearby neighbors in Mt. View Estates and environmental groups have opposed the plant, citing foul odors, smoke and noise produced when it operates and fear of consequences if a flood should inundate the site.
Situated between Interstate 5 and Bear Creek just south of West Valley View Road, the plant has operated on the 11-acre site since 2001.
"We're going to fight on," said Chris Hudson, owner of Mt. View Estates just across the creek. "I've got a feeling it's going to be a long battle."
Mt. View Estates will appeal the ruling, Hudson said. She said residents of the park also will band together to file an appeal.
Appeals must be filed by April 8. A county hearings officer would then hold a public hearing. A decision on any appeal must be issued by May 24 under Oregon land-use law.
"The hearings officer's (finding) is the final county decision," said County Administrator Danny Jordan. But that decision could be contested before Oregon's Land Use Board of Appeals.
The plant's owner said he was pleased with the outcome.
"I just heard yesterday that they kind of ruled in my favor. I haven't seen the decision or the paperwork yet," said owner Paul Meyer. "That's good for the county and a lot of other people."
Meyer said he couldn't comment further until he'd read the decision and conferred with his attorney, who was out of town.
A flood plain development permit also was issued that will require relocating some buildings outside the floodway and permits for all structures within the Bear Creek flood plain. Construction has taken place at the site without permits.
The ruling gives Mountain View paving a land-use permit for the batch plant and other buildings. It recognizes they lawfully exist, although they do not conform to the property's rural residential zoning.
Affidavits submitted with the application stated that asphalt production had been conducted on the site as early as 1963. The property was given an open space zoning in 1973 that did not allow asphalt plants. In 1982 it was rezoned as rural residential. County regulations allow the continuation of nonconforming uses despite zoning changes.
Regulations also provide that applicants don't have to look back more than 10 years to prove continuous operation.
"At first glance it appears that the county is setting a very low bar and precedent for other folks," said Steve Rouse of Rogue Advocates. The group had previously appealed a similar application that Mountain View Paving submitted and then withdrew in 2012 following another favorable county ruling.
Zoning safeguards are not applicable by just looking back 10 years, said Rouse.
"Rogue Advocates will review the approval and may appeal on behalf of some of its members," he said, adding that some of them live near the site.
Rogue Riverkeeper, another group that appealed the earlier decision and filed comments on the applications, will study the rulings before it decides on an appeal.
Riverkeeper's program director, Forrest English, wasn't happy about the decisions.
"I think it's a shame that the county has chosen to reward bad behavior," English said. "The facility has been operating for over a decade and in response the county has chosen to allow that even further."
English said he would like the county to use current flood plain and zoning rules, which would not allow the operation.
The Talent City Council had asked for four conditions to be imposed on the applications. The site lies within the town's urban growth boundary, and an agreement developed under the Regional Problem Solving initiative calls for collaboration between the city and county.
Only one of the city's requests, to limit operating hours, was adopted. The plant will be allowed to run from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
"My initial assessment is they respectfully disregarded our requests," said Councilor Darby Stricker. "I think that's a wake-up call to all cities."
The city also has asked that the operation conform to its flood plain development standards,
Meyer employs about 15 workers. The plant's location at the south end of the Rogue Valley means pavement trucks don't have to drive through Medford to get asphalt, he notes. He says the plant promotes competition in pricing when contractors and government agencies need paving.
A berm on the property along the east side of Bear Creek screens the plant from the Bear Creek Greenway. During the 1997 New Year's Day flood, the berm was not breached, but water did back up into the site after it was impeded by the Valley View Bridge over the creek, Meyer said. That bridge has been replaced with a new, higher structure.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.