Oregon’s visionary land use system created more than forty years ago has preserved the natural abundance we all now enjoy, including farmland, open space and working forests; it’s critically important to uphold those laws now and for future generations.

Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Closing the Loopholes in Farm protections

Central Oregon LandWatch persevered against an attempt to erode protections for farmland with a favorable decision from the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2016.

A Sisters-area landowner applied for a permit to establish a “private park” on their property for the purpose of holding for-profit events without following the conditions set in place to protect farmland. This would allow landowners to circumvent the land use system by permitting uses that would not otherwise be allowed on land zoned for farmland and wildlife habitat. LandWatch appealed the application in order to uphold protections for family farms and wildlife.

Commercial events are explicitly allowed on exclusive farm use (EFU) land since the Legislature passed a bill to allow them in 2011. When passing this bill, the Legislature set in place a variety of conditions to protect farmland. If permits were given to hold events on “private parks,” these protections would be negated.

In a decision that will be of statewide benefit, the Court of Appeals ruled that a primarily commercial activity, like a wedding event venue, was not intended to be the primary use of a private park. Private parks are to be used for “low-intensity outdoor recreational use,” according to the Court. Thanks to LandWatch, this closes a gap in protections for farmland and still allows weddings and other events – as long as the correct conditions are met. 

Update: Having failed to disguise its primarily commercial for-profit event venue as a private park, the same property owner has now applied to disguise its primarily commercial for-profit event venue as a church. LandWatch has appealed this case to the Land Use Board of Appeals.

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Protecting Central Oregon Farm and Range Land

Oregon’s visionary land use system created more than forty years ago has preserved the natural abundance we all now enjoy, including farm and range land, open space and working forests. Central Oregon LandWatch is working to uphold those laws now and for future generations. 

We are keeping an eye out for non-farm dwelling applications, which break up open spaces and fragment farm and range land out of production. We are currently litigating one of these cases in Tumalo and one case in Crook County. 

Local farmers and ranchers from Tumalo to Madras take pride in producing local food and goods for our community. Our work protects Central Oregon’s agricultural roots and preserves opportunities for emerging farmers and ranchers.

Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Protecting Southern Deschutes county

Due to high water tables in southern Deschutes County, nitrates (leaked from septic systems and other sources) have been found in some of the groundwater in the area.  To address this problem, the County has proposed a blanket exception to Goal 11, which would allow sewer systems to be built in all unincorporated areas without regard to need or impact on existing residents.

Central Oregon LandWatch is in favor of effective programs to deal with any water quality issues in southern Deschutes County. However, in this case, the one-size-fits-all solution is worse than the problem itself. 

The County’s plan is unfair and unnecessary because it focuses on new development and doesn’t address the existing community’s needs.

People who live in southern Deschutes County are not happy about the proposal because it may result in an influx of new housing development that has the potential to push low-income residents out of the area.

LandWatch prevailed at the Land Use Board of Appeals on this case when the court agreed that the exception would be too broad. It has been remanded back to the County.

We believe solutions will come from scientifically identifying where any specific problems are and providing needed funding to fix them, and we are partnering with Oregon State University to fund related research.

Banner Photo courtesy of Austin Montreil Leonard