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A carrot and a stick - Oregon Land Use Program











By Bob Hart, LLC
June 21, 2013

The State of Oregon created a Land Use Task Force to “listen” to the people about how the land use program was working. The Task Force conducted numerous hearings throughout the State to take testimony about the Land Use Program. In Oregon the State adopted a land use control system with specific State Goals to protect the two primary economic sectors of farm use and timber production as well as other Goals. With stringent guide lines, the state program restricts uses on these two types of resource lands to the point that building a house on your own piece of land is not allowed with few exceptions. All of this is to prevent sprawl of people building outside of urban area because it’s inefficient or it might impact resource management. An appointed commission, the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) was formed to review and administer the State program.

A focus of the Oregon land use system is the creation of Urban Growth Boundaries. This construct establishes a boundary on a map that marks the outermost limit that development can occur in and around cities. The development is focused on the allowance of residential, commercial and industrial development. All significant new development is planned to occur within these urban areas to create cost efficient projects.

The State required all Counties and Cities to develop Comprehensive Plans that embodied the newly adopted State Goals. The State reviewed the adopted plans to determine if the plans met the State vision of land use planning. If a jurisdiction’s adopted plan did not meet with State approval, an enforcement order was issued to force the County or City into compliance with the State Goals as defined by the State.

The Task Force from the state became a dog and pony show to convince the people that came to the meetings that everything was working just fine. The presentations were very scripted and only provided questions that would support the existing system. From the meetings that I attended, the people were not going to be limited to support the party line and there were impassioned statements of how the land use program from the state was crushing dreams, driving prices of land so it was not affordable to the average person and that there was no common sense in the decisions that were being made.

Enough furor was made at the meetings that some legislators drafted a bill to fix the problems that the lands use program created. The bill was introduced in the 2009 legislative session as HB 2229. This bill didn’t sit well with the State leadership and the bill died before a vote could be taken.

Primary parts to the bill included recognizing variation to conditions in different regions in the State, a mandate that the land use program would be fair and equitable to all Oregonians. The bill also instructed the LCDC to allow different standards in different regions to work with local conditions. The reason there is a need for different standards is that the one size standard requires that farm income must be $80,000 per year for two out of three years before a house is approved on farm lands with good soils. Another standard limits houses in forest zones to areas that have an existing concentration of houses within a 160 acre square around the parcel or allows houses on lots that are at lease 160 acres in size. The existing land use patterns make it so many lots will not allow a dwelling on an existing legal lot.

As part of some other political maneuvering, a pilot program to evaluate three Southern Oregon Counties was initiated under executive order from the Governor John Kitzhaber. The pilot program designated Douglas, Jackson and Josephine Counties as participants. These counties have exhibited some of the most problems with the state land use rules that apply a one size fits all solution to address state concerns. The Governor issued the executive order to begin the pilot project and the state planners took up almost half of the time allotted to complete the project while they established the ground rules on what needed to be studied and what tasks the Counties needed to complete before a proposal could be submitted to the Land Use Commission for review.

The three counties located at the south end of the state have climatic conditions that are different from the north part of the state. They exhibit dry, hot summers and mountainous topography that make farming different from the expansive Willamette Valley to the north. The climate also makes growing timber less productive compared to the wetter lands that begin in Douglas County and expand northward. The three Counties decided to complete the Pilot Project if possible. Technical committees were formed in each county with a variety of people appointed to review what the problems were and how to approach solutions. As part of each committee there were farmers and foresters and well as environmentalists and state agency representatives.

Farmers and foresters and local planners searched for solutions to problems such as land zoned for resource use that has no resource potential to identification of lands that are not suitable for any resource use and how to protect valuable productive farm land from expanding cities. All the while, the environmentalists and state agencies questioned everything discussed. Studies magically appeared to challenge rural lands having houses because the cost to provide services were more than the taxed paid. No one ever described what services were provided only the collection of “all” services cost more that rural residents return in the form of taxes. It was suggested that it is not cost efficient to live in the county and travel to town to work and shop. This was said like the vast majority of people are subsidizing the people that live in the country.

These are likely the same people that would complain if a neighbor had a horse and the smell and flies are objectionable. The environmentalists are demanding an accounting of exactly how many lots can be created if we let people live outside the cities. The answer is if there is adequate water and soil that allows septic systems to function, why does the number of lots matter. The primary issue is if land cannot be used for farm or forest land and is not in some natural hazard area, then the land should not be “protected for farm and forest uses.”

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The Regional Pilot Project is approaching the end of time to make a recommendation to the state on how the region will approach land use. The concern is if a reasonable proposal is submitted, with the State just say “No” we don’t like your idea and we will stay with the existing system. The Pilot Program was a carrot to let three counties try to fix a land use system that was declared broken by the citizens that came to testify at the Land Use Task Force meetings. The question is if there will be some meaningful changes allowed or will the State Commission still apply the one size solution that we are stuck with now.

2013 Bob Hart, LLC - All Rights Reserved

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Bob Hart has been providing land use planning and development consulting services for property owners and developers for over 15 years. The focus is on the Oregon Land Use system.

Bob has over 22 years of land use planning experience within local government planning departments including Josephine County, City of Medford and City of Los Angeles giving us insight into the inner workings of the land use process. Bob has background and experience to apply to your land use needs.

Bob has over 37 years of experience to include application submittal, and presentations at public hearings before Hearing Officers, Planning Commissions, City Councils, County Commissioners, State Boards and State Legislative subcommittees.











A focus of the Oregon land use system is the creation of Urban Growth Boundaries. This construct establishes a boundary on a map that marks the outermost limit that development can occur in and around cities.