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Box R Ranch gets land-use victory

A four-decades-long battle to develop the former Box R Ranch near Pinehurst may have ended last Monday when the Land Use Board of Appeals dismissed a case filed by neighbors and Rogue Advocates.

"It does look good — it does look very good," said former ranch owner Don Rowlett, who sold off 950 acres of his Box R Ranch property to New Frontier Ranch. Rowlett is still involved in the case because of his previous agreements to develop the property with Jackson County. Box R still has about 500 acres at 17575 Highway 66, about 25 miles southeast of Ashland.

LUBA determined Rogue Advocates and neighbors Jeff and Jeannie Gilmore and Elizabeth Coker failed to present evidence in a timely manner.

Medford lawyer Dan O'Connor, who represented Rowlett, said this was a big victory for his client.

"It's dismissed," he said. "It's done."

Another lawyer, Hilary Zamudio, handled most of the work at the Oregon Court of Appeals, O'Connor said.

In an 11-page opinion issued Nov. 23, 2016, 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 filed in a timely manner with the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

Lagesen's opinion directed a remand to LUBA to dismiss the appeal unless the board, at its discretion, entertained a motion to take additional evidence.

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

Steve Rouse with Rogue Advocates said he had a chance to look at LUBA's order Wednesday.

"It's not favorable to Rogue Advocates," he said.

While LUBA found Rogue Advocates was correct on the merits of the case, Rouse said LUBA expressed concern about dragging out the process.

"They feel bound to provide an expedited process," he said.

Rouse said it's too early to say whether Rogue Advocates would appeal the LUBA order.

Rouse said one of the three members of the LUBA board, Melissa Ryan, offered a dissenting opinion.

Ryan stated in the LUBA Final Order that the county circumvented the land-use process by developing a private agreement between the county and Rowlett.

She also took issue with trying to expedite the final order that was supported by the other two LUBA board members.

"I believe that the policy that 'time is of the essence' in reaching final decisions on matters involving land use provides little support for denying the motion in these circumstances," Ryan stated.

According to Rouse's understanding of the agreement reached with Jackson County, the ranch wouldn't have to conform with many state land-use laws.

Rouse said a New Frontier website (newfrontierranch.com) talked about plans for a large hotel.

"They want to build an amphitheater and do large concerts in a (marijuana)-friendly environment," he said.

Tom Armstrong, one of the owners of New Frontier, said some of the claims being made about his ranch are far from reality, including concerns about a 200-room hotel.

"A big hotel out here is never part of the plans," he said.

Some of the rumors, he said, came about because of a website that was created by a 26-year-old, including the reference to marijuana-friendly concerts.

"He put stuff out there that we wish he hadn't done," he said.

Armstrong said he wants to honor Don's vision and example of treating the earth gently.

Until the dust settles on the legal challenges, Armstrong said he's not prepared to say what his plans are for the ranch.

The Box R Ranch has a long history trying to develop the property into a resort.

On May 17, 1976, the ranch received a vested right from Jackson County Circuit Court to proceed with development of the property.

The rights of the ranch were amended Aug. 13, 1987, to allow a 60-unit campground, a general store for guests, a chapel and a lodge. Also, a replica of a frontier village could be built, including a jailhouse, post office, blacksmith's shop, livery stable and other buildings that reflect the Old West. Six log homes for guests, three of which had already been built, and five miscellaneous structures could also be built under the agreement.

Other buildings currently located on the property include a ranch house, detached garage, blacksmith shop, two barns, two shacks, two storage sheds and two water towers.

Rouse said Rogue Advocates thought the amended decree allowing the development was supposed to expire Jan. 1, 2007.

But the county and the Rowletts agreed Dec. 10, 2013, that no expiration of the development rights is warranted, based on another amended agreement.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm