The Oregon Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court ruling that local land use watchdogs Art Bullock and Philip Lang must pay $5,574 in attorneys' fees and costs to a development company after the two tried to block an Ashland project.

The Oregon Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court ruling that local land use watchdogs Art Bullock and Philip Lang must pay $5,574 in attorneys' fees and costs to a development company after the two tried to block an Ashland project.

In a decision filed on Wednesday, the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed a 2008 decision by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Harris that Bullock and Lang had purposefully tried to delay efforts by Park Street Apartments, LLC to win approval for converting 30 Ashland apartments into condominiums.

In his ruling, Harris wrote, "The court finds that intervenors' conduct relating to this application has been a willful attempt to delay plaintiff's land use application, to cause the applicant to expend additional resources and to discourage other applicants from seeking approval of land use applications in the City of Ashland."

Harris said that Bullock and Lang's arguments against the project — which ultimately won approval in the land use process — were without merit.

Attorney Chris Hearn, who represents Park Street Apartments LLC, said in the past, the Oregon Court of Appeals has not upheld rulings that citizen land use activists who lose cases must pay the attorneys' fees and costs of developers.

Bullock and Lang have a long history of opposing local projects. Bullock alone or in concert with Lang has filed at least seven lawsuits challenging Ashland land use decisions and projects that range from public street and sidewalk improvements to a subdivision.

The city of Ashland has previously reported that the lawsuits could cost the city government $170,000 to litigate.

Hearn said Bullock and Lang's pattern of opposing projects probably contributed to the 2008 Jackson County Circuit Court ruling that was upheld by the Oregon Court of Appeals this week.

"There was a lot of exasperation, not only on the part of my client, but, I believe, with the city over the multiple lawsuits," Hearn said. "It was our opportunity to put that on trial. It was a one-in-a-1,000 case where sanctioning a citizen land use activist was appropriate."

He said courts must consider whether requiring a losing land use activist to pay a developer's attorneys' fees would have a chilling effect on legitimate lawsuits.

"It is a problem if developers try to threaten land use activists who are using the system properly," Hearn said.

Bullock and Lang did not return phone calls for comment.

Bullock told Ashland City Council members in 2006 that the conversion of the Park Street apartments into condominiums would destroy affordable rental housing for workers.

Hearn said the owner of the apartments wanted to win approval to convert them into condos in advance of a City Council decision to make such conversions more difficult. But the owner did not have immediate plans to turn the for-rent apartments into for-sale condos.

Nevertheless, condos can represent an affordable option for people who want to buy a home, Hearn said.

Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.