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Owner awaits zoning change for 12 houses beside river

GOLD HILL - A landowner hoping to build 12 houses along the Rogue River will find out next week if an appeal by the Jackson County Citizens League will stop him.

Joe Ratigliano, who owns 65 acres of land zoned for exclusive farm use at the end of John Day Drive, has asked the county to rezone the property as rural residential. County commissioners will decide on his request at a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at the county offices, 10 S. Oakdale, Medford.

Ratigliano's request is made possible by the county's decision this winter to loosen land-use laws so that applicants for agricultural zoning changes no longer have to prove they have reasons for the changes.

The law goes into effect Sunday.

But the citizens league argues that the case should fall under laws in place when rezoning was initially decided, in 2000. That would require Ratigliano to prove a reason for exception to the zoning law.

The league already has argued its case before LUBA, which directed the county to either reconsider the Ratigliano decision or change its ordinances.

Citizens' league President Mary-Kay Michelsen said the league does not dispute the land lacks value for farming - soil is borderline and land is steep - but the 250-member group worries about the impact of development on open space and nearby wildlife.

"Rural residential (zoning) is intended to be near the city so it would one day become part of the city. This land is not intended to ever be part of the city," Michelsen said.

"Our position is that it would put 13 new houses next to the river where they don't need any. There's already a subdivision nearby (Gold Rey Estates) with many vacant lots, so there's no great need for dwellings."

In addition, the league is opposed to development that would affect Kelly Slough, home to the endangered western pond turtle, an eagle nest and a heron rookery.

Development worries Nature Conservancy members, too.

"The public's interest at Lower Table Rock and Kelly Slough is benefited by the current zoning of exclusive farm use," said Darren Borgias, a spokesman for the conservancy, "which maintains a buffer between the natural area and the more developed residential area further west on John Day Drive."

Ratigliano declined to comment on specific details of the case other than to say the process has "taken almost five years" and has been "confusing, arduous and expensive."

County commissioners could decide next week to send the case back for review, rescind the decision or grant rezoning.

Buffy Pollock is a free-lance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at dob522@mindspring.com.