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Morrison not pleased with new county zoning

Ashland Mayor John Morrison might ask his city to appeal a new rural zoning created by Jackson County commissioners in September, condemning it as a threat to communities throughout the valley.

"The fact is it will have an impact," he said, taking issue with commissioners for overlooking how the zoning would tax services like fire and police in cities like Ashland. "The county is looking out for the county."

Morrison said he will discuss the value of an appeal with other council members and the city's attorney, although he doubts there is any legal basis on which to challenge it.

Jackson County commissioners approved a rural-use designation that will allow owners who think their properties have been incorrectly zoned to divide them into lots of 10 acres or more. According to data compiled by county officials, the zoning change could affect an estimated 105,000 acres (about 164 square miles) of rural land and have the potential to create 2,591 new lots of 10 acres or more.

Property owners will have to request a zoning change through the county planning department and prove that poor soil or some other problem prevents their land from being used for agricultural purposes.

Ashland last month sent commissioners a letter protesting the new zoning and Councilwoman Kate Jackson also voiced objections at a public hearing.

"Jurisdictions such as ourselves are reduced to sending them letters deploring what they have done," said Morrison.

Ashland isn't the only community alarmed by the new zoning.

The Talent City Council decided recently to send a letter to commissioners asking them to rescind the ordinance creating the zoning.

Council members said the zoning would allow development just outside the city's boundaries that would have an impact on the town's police and fire services.

Morrison said he also feared the same problem, saying development around Ashland would tax schools and roads as well as ambulance and fire services. "We will lose money on most ambulance runs," he said. Morrison noted that the city regularly goes outside its boundaries to offer emergency services.

Before an appeal would even be considered, Morrison said he needs to talk it over with the city's attorney. Afterward, he said the city needs to weigh its options.

"Is there a feasible course of action that might have an outcome," he said.

Commissioner Walker, who championed the rural-use zoning, disputed Morrison's claim that the zoning would hurt Ashland and other communities.

"He hasn't got the slightest idea of what he's talking about," he said.

The zoning would give property owners considering a Measure 37 claim another avenue that would result in less density, he said.

Under the rural-use zone, a property could be divided up in 10-acre minimum parcels, while under Measure 37 the lot size could be far smaller.

"This is a mitigating way to get through Measure 37," he said.

Walker said the county is on solid legal ground with the new zoning, but added, "The city of Ashland has got to do what it's got to do."

Commissioner Dave Gilmour said he thought Measure 37 claims would have far more impact on Ashland than the rural-use zoning, which he opposed. "Rural use would be relatively marginal," he said.

He thinks the city needs to do something to alert residents of Jackson County to the pitfalls of the zoning, while weighing whether that effort is worth the price.

"Do we want to burn staff time to edify people to the alarming aspects of it?" he asked.