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New Law Allows Oregon Counties to Reconsider Farmland Zoning

January 31, 2012

Each Oregon county adopted a comprehensive land use plan between 1975 and 1986.  In order to designate those lands to be used only for farming, those counties relied on maps created by the U.S. Soils Conservation Service.  For those lands most clearly unsuitable for farming (many of which were already developed), counties granted an “exception” from farmland (i.e., EFU) zoning.  Lands not granted an exception during the initial comprehensive planning process were presumed to be capable of supporting a farm.

From the start this “lock down” of non-exception rural lands frustrated those property owners who believed that their land was unusable, i.e., soils too poor to support a farm, but zoned to prohibit a use other than farming (even a non-farm dwelling).  This frustration fueled passage of Measure 37 in 2004, which essentially peeled back the restrictive nature of EFU zoning for land that has not changed hands since the 1970’s.

A little-publicized recent outcome of Measure 37 was legislation to reopen the underpinnings of rural zoning.  HB 2229 (2009) authorized counties to re-evaluate soil quality in lands zoned EFU.  Now, pursuant to HB 3647 (2011), DLCD’s Soils Assessment Rules Advisory Committee has clarified the parameters of this re-evaluation.

This new law gives Oregon counties clearer authority to reconsider whether the soils within EFU districts actually support that zoning.  Just given the land areas involved, this is not a simple task.  Recession-battered county budgets make it more difficult.  Nonetheless, the State is showing an open mind about rural zoning, where the EFU should apply and where it should not.

If you have any questions, please contact me at TWyman@dunncarney.com.

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