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Neighbors oppose rural college

Local residents and a Southern Oregon University associate professor have voiced opposition to a college campus proposed off Buckhorn Springs Road south of Ashland.

“We think it destroys our area,” said Ed Hillard, a 70-year-old resident who lives a few miles from the proposed college. “Besides the fact that we think it would ruin the area, it breaks zoning laws and sets statewide precedent for Oregon’s urban growth boundary laws.”

Rod and Brooks Newton, who run Hidden Springs Wellness Center in Ashland, have proposed building a 500-student and staff campus with 78 residences, classrooms, laboratories, an amphitheater, lecture halls, a restaurant, a deli, a small campus store and other buildings.

The campus, which would be dedicated to teaching farming techniques, wildlife habitat restoration and offer other courses on improving the environment, would be clustered on 21 acres of an 80-acre parcel at 800 Buckhorn Springs Road.

The Newtons, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, are currently revising their application with Jackson County and have asked for a delay in holding a public hearing, according to the planning department.

Hillard said the nature of the project on land zoned exclusive farm use will lead to legal actions, he wasn't sure about the intentions of the owners, and he felt discussion about the school itself was “nebulous.”

“It all comes down to a kind of sniff test,” Hillard stated in an email sent to the county on May 9. “If you sniff this proposal, there is zero indication that it involves true research and not a lot that involves instruction.”

SOU biology associate professor John Sollinger objected to the Novalis project because the university is less than eight miles away. He said faculty in the environmental studies and biology departments have been conducting their own research into ecosystems and environmental conditions in the area for years.

“Why impact that ecologically diverse area unnecessarily?” Sollinger said.

Other SOU professors have thrown their support behind the project.

The University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Goddard College in Vermont have sent letters backing the project. SOU has drafted a memorandum of understanding to work with Novalis and expand on the environmental program already available.

Greg Jones, director of the division of business at SOU, said the Novalis campus would help fill in gaps in the academic program at his school.

Jones said SOU already has worked with Novalis on projects including sustainable farm management through ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum in Ashland.

Hillard and some of his neighbors along Tyler Creek Road have been banding together in an effort stop the project.

“A college does not belong in a wilderness area, especially since this property borders the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument,” Lance and Jo Collumbine stated in an email to Jackson County planning officials.

Lance Collumbine, reached by phone, said he sees a number of issues with the proposed project that would adversely affect the area, including water rights, septic concerns, light pollution and traffic.

“Our concern is that we initially heard about eco-housing or a yoga studio on the property, and then all of a sudden this college thing comes up,” Collumbine said. “Now, our concern is that they’re talking about starting out small and then it’s going to change and get bigger.”

Collumbine has lived on Tyler Road for 30 years and he said other neighbors also have expressed concern about the project.

Another resident of the Ashland area, identified only as C. Bennett, sent the county a letter on April 25 denouncing the Novalis Institute proposal.

“The vast size of your proposed institute is completely out of scale with a wilderness area and would require bulldozing wildlife habitat and tree cutting for construction of buildings and roads, as well as vastly increasing traffic on Highway 99 and Buckhorn Springs Road,” Bennett stated.

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

A plan to build a rural college on 21 acres of an 80-acre farm parcel on Buckhorn Springs Road in Ashland is coming under opposition from some neighbors. Mail Tribune file photo