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Appeals court overturns Box R Ranch decision

PINEHURST — A land use board decision that appeared to block development opportunities on the former Box R Ranch, now the New Frontier Ranch, has been reversed by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

In an 11-page opinion issued Nov. 23, Judge Erin C. Lagesen ruled that an appeal of a 2013 stipulated agreement between Jackson County and then-Box R Ranch owners Don and Jean Rowlett was not timely filed with the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

Lagesen’s opinion directs a remand for LUBA to dismiss the appeal unless the board, at its discretion, wants to entertain a motion to take additional evidence.

Information on a website indicating that a 200-room hotel might be built on the site prompted the appeal to LUBA by neighbors and an environmental group in December 2015.

When the LUBA ruling came out, Jackson County Development Director Kelly Madding said in July that any further development would need to go through a new county land-use process, but the appeals court ruling reverses that stand.

“Because there is no stay, it’s really up to the people who own the Box R as to what they want to do,” said Madding. “We really don’t have a say. If they want to move forward with something, they have to come in and get building permits.”

Rogue Advocates and landowners Jeff and Jeannie Gilmore, who live adjacent to the ranch on Highway 66, appealed the 2013 stipulated agreement on Dec. 7, 2015.

All other challenges that lawyer H.M. Zamudio, who represented the Rowletts, raised as reasons for seeking overturn of the LUBA order were rejected by the court without further written discussion. Zamudio did not return calls seeking comment.

“We are relying on our legal consultant to pursue clarification for our timely filing of the LUBA appeal,” Rogue Advocates President Steve Rouse told the Mail Tribune in an email. “Beyond that technical issue (the Court of Appeals) upheld the main LUBA decisions supporting our Box R appeal.”

Lawyer William Sherlock of Eugene represents Rogue Advocates and the Gilmores.

Development issues for the site go back to the 1970s. A court overturned a Jackson County denial to develop a guest ranch in 1975. The Rowletts entered stipulated agreements regarding what could be done on the ranch in 1987 and again in 2013.

LUBA made no factual findings in its ruling as to when the Gilmores learned about the development possibilities, the appeals court said. Land-use rules require appeal within 21 days after a party becomes aware of a decision. There was an “insufficiency of evidence,” the court wrote.

The Rowletts think the issues may not be resolved with the latest ruling.

“I don’t care to speak about this,” said Don Rowlett, when contacted for comment. “It is an ongoing case and it will wind its way through the courts.”

New Frontier Ranch did not return calls seeking comment on possible development. The ranch’s website said an amphitheater is scheduled for completion in early 2017 and that a summer concert lineup will be announced in March.

LUBA’s July ruling stated that the county's 2013 agreement entirely sidestepped land-use proceedings. The ranch is located between Tubb Springs and Pinehurst.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.