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Medella Bison Ranch owner rescinds plans for motocross track

Medella Bison Ranch owner Thaddeus Gala said he was initially heartened by the outpour of community interest in the future of an iconic property, though sentiment from some community members quickly turned sour.

Gala purchased the 139-acre property, formerly Billings Ranch, in late November 2020 and initiated a cash prize contest to solicit ideas for property uses — an effort intended to thank people for their contributions and encourage some excitement around new ownership, he said. Winners will be announced by March 15.

In a letter distributed to neighbors bordering the property, Gala requested “input, ideas and help” regarding plans for property use. Among the initial ideas submitted, Gala received suggestions for a motocross track, affordable housing development and agricultural uses.

Gala said Wednesday he has planned a meeting with Jackson County officials to determine the feasibility of some ideas, which may include a venue space, educational opportunities for local schools and a bison ranch. Gala said he has hired a land-use planner to navigate zoning restrictions and requirements for any potential uses.

The Jackson County Planning Department did not return requests for comment about appropriate property uses.

During a walking tour for the public, some who identified themselves as residents of the nearby Billings Ranch subdivision and Quiet Village inquired about Gala’s intentions for providing a fire buffer to protect their homes and indicated a preference for an irrigated animal pasture instead of a motocross track, Gala said.

Several neighbors were concerned given the pathway of the Almeda fire in September 2020 through the ranch, he added.

Gala said he told interested neighbors the fire buffer would not become a top priority until year three, four or five, given costs associated with the necessary work and other property priorities taking precedence for resources. “Tens of thousands of dollars” in electrical service improvements became a priority once the ranch house was gutted and inspected, he said.

“I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, if we can come up with a way to split the cost, we’ll move it higher on our priority list,’” Gala recounted. “In hindsight, I should have just said, ‘You know what, that’s a great idea, if you want to organize with the neighbors and you want to coordinate that and you want to talk about a fire break, talk to all your neighbors and then come back and we’re happy to look at any proposals you have.’”

Gala said since the conversation about the pasture devolved, he has received threatening and demeaning comments amid claims that the letter was extortive. As of Thursday, Gala said he has not received any donations in response to the letter.

“Somehow I’m the villain because neighbors reached out to me,” Gala said. “Property rights are there for a reason — it’s so people can do what they want in their own bedrooms and their own backyard.”

In the letter, Gala said a 15- to 20-acre motocross track would be more financially feasible given the interest from groups willing to provide labor and equipment, against an estimated $80,000 cost to irrigate, seed, fence and fertilize the 24-acre section of property as a pasture and firebreak.

Gala claimed the letter was reviewed by some neighbors who consented to the idea of a 50-50 split on costs to get the pasture in decent shape. The letter asked homeowners to contribute up to $1,000 as an investment in the project by Feb. 28.

Gala said he intended the letter as a response to neighbors’ concerns and an opportunity for collaboration on installing the elements of a fire buffer in time for summer 2021, as the deadline for spring soil preparation, star thistle removal, seeding and irrigation installation draws close.

In a Facebook post recapping a Feb. 11 virtual public meeting, Gala said no motocross track will be installed, and “the letter was poorly written, and in hindsight [we] would have approached it much differently.”

Ashland City Councilor Paula Hyatt said she received multiple phone calls and emails from Ashland residents concerned about the letter when it was released. None of the people who called or wrote said they had engaged in discussions with Gala about contributing financially to a fire buffer prior to receiving the letter, she said.

“I think residents are wise to be vigilant,” Hyatt said.

The location of the property presents some jurisdictional considerations, at the crux of Jackson County and Ashland’s city limit, Hyatt said. If a land use application comes forth through the county, the city could respond and develop a position on land use through the appropriate channels at that time, she said.

Ashland City Attorney David Lohman said letter recipients “may or may not have legally actionable civil claims against the letter’s authors or actionable complaints to be made to the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.”

Gala said he remains open to community collaboration on a firebreak if neighbors bring their ideas forward and would like to transition the discussion about the future of the land from inflammatory to productive and healing.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Allayana Darrow / Ashland tidingsThaddeus Gala said inspections indicate thousands of dollars worth of electrical improvement is required to make the Medella Bison Ranch house fire safe.
Allayana Darrow / Ashland tidingsThaddeus Gala purchased the former Billings Ranch property, now Medella Bison Ranch, in November 2020.