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Parks urge strict control on golf course

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission is asking Jackson County to ensure that the proposed Billings Ranch Golf Club doesn't harm the environment and allows continued community access to natural areas.

During a Monday night meeting, the commission unanimously agreed to make the request after hearing from residents who are concerned about the project.

Commissioners said the golf course should enhance water quality and riparian conditions, permit continued public access and be covered by detailed pesticide and water management plans.

Jackson County is reviewing a conditional use permit application from golf course developers and is scheduled to hold a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 9 in the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford. The parks commission will submit a written comment before that date.

However, that hearing could be cancelled and the application returned to the developers because Gael Kubli, who owns a parcel of property that was to be included in the golf course project, indicated in verbal and written communications with the county that he will not sell his land for the project, County Planner III Raul Woerner said this morning.

Woerner said he will contact Kubli for confirmation today that he is withdrawing permission for use of his property.

At the parks meeting, Kubli said he has many concerns about the project and the price offered for his land was too low.

"I'm for this Billings Ranch Golf course on the Billings ranch," Kubli said.

Long-time Ashland resident John Billings owns the bulk of the land for the golf course.

Other area residents urged the commission to take a stand on the issue, even though the site falls just outside Ashland's city limits.

Mike Peru of Billings Ranch Golf Group, who had been scheduled to attend the meeting, was not present to provide information about the development.

"I would like this committee to recognize this is a part of our heritage and part of our community," said Gerry Lehrburger, who lives near the area and voiced concerns about pesticide use and improper use of Bear Creek Greenway land.

The greenway passes through a corner of the proposed golf course. Netting or screening would be required to shield greenway users from errant golf balls, and residents said that would cut off access to the natural areas bordering the popular path.

"It's accessible to people in Ashland who can walk right off the greenway," said Chris Uhtoff, who has seen owls, orioles, tanagers and a heron rookery while bird watching there. "It's unusual to have such a wild spot so close to town."

Other residents said the commission has a direct stake in the development.

The parks department operates the Oak Knoll Public Golf Course on the southeast edge of town.

That golf course - which now only breaks even - could lose business to the 170-acre, 18-hole championship course planned near Ashland's northwest boundary. The Billings Ranch Golf Club also would include a 24,731 square foot, two story clubhouse with a restaurant.

"If the revenues are going to decline and it can't meet operating costs, would it revert to a park? Would it be sold off for commercial or residential development? On the other side of town it could have impacts as well," said Oak Knoll area resident Michael Hays.

The parks department also owns an undeveloped parcel of land with trails and a pond adjacent to the proposed golf course. There are no plans to develop the natural area, according to Parks Superintendent Steve Gies.

If done correctly, the golf course development could benefit rather than harm fish in Bear Creek and Ashland Creek, said local irrigation consultant Paul Kay.

The golf course could be irrigated with treated effluent from Ashland's wastewater treatment plant, which underwent a multi-million dollar upgrade to comply with tightening Oregon Department of Environmental Quality rules limiting phosphorus levels in effluent that empties into creeks and rivers.

However, the city faces regulations restricting warm effluent from entering the Bear Creek Watershed, which could lead to costly efforts to cool the water.

Instead of cooling the effluent, it could be used to irrigate the golf course. The golf course in turn could give the City of Ashland its water rights in order to keep cold water in Ashland Creek, Kay said.

The developers have discussed the issue with City Public Works Director Paula Brown, who is out of town and could not be reached for comment on the issue.