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Oregon’s Douglas County withdraws rural housing zone

A plan to allow 20-acre rural home sites on 22,500 acres of farm and forestland in Oregon’s Douglas County has been withdrawn, though perhaps only

Capital Press story

Oregon’s Douglas County has withdrawn its plan to allow more rural housing on 22,500 acres of farm and forest land, though it’s likely to be revived.

Earlier this year, the county decided to allow 20-acre home sites on properties deemed of marginal value for agriculture or forestry within two miles of certain cities and rural communities.

The change was challenged before Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals by two state agencies — the Department of Land Conservation and Development and the Department of Fish and Wildlife — as well as the 1,000 Friends of Oregon conservation group.

Douglas County has now notified LUBA that it’s withdrawing the amendment to its comprehensive land use plan for reconsideration.

Joshua Shaklee, the county’s planning manager, said there were some “potential procedural defects” in adopting the change that may have convinced LUBA to remand the decision.

The county expects to “take another crack at it” after resolving any possible issues, which are now being reviewed by a law firm, but it’s unclear how long the process will take, he said.

“I’d describe it as a setback but not anything definitive,” Shaklee said.

Meriel Darzen, staff attorney for 1,000 Friends of Oregon, said the organization is hopeful the county will accept more citizen involvement in formulating a plan.

The final version of the plan was adopted after the opportunity for public comments had ended, which caused concerns about residents being able to weigh in on the change, she said.

“We’re hoping the withdrawal recognizes there needs to be more public process with this decision,” Darzen said.

The county has 90 days to resubmit the decision or otherwise report to LUBA, she said. If it decides to restart the decision-making process altogether, the eventual plan can still be appealed to LUBA at a later time.

According to the county, only about 25 percent of the acreage available for new homes sites under the plan would have actually been developed, resulting in about 375 housing parcels.

The final acreage was scaled down from 35,000 acres in the original proposal, which represented about 1 percent of the county’s farm and forest land.

However, critics said the county set too high a standard for commercially productive land, effectively opening the way for development of property that could profitably be used for grazing and logging.

The plan was also criticized for potentially complicating the expansion of “urban grown boundaries” around communities, since the 20-acre parcels would be harder to consolidate and develop than larger tracts.