BEND, OR -- Rural Deschutes County has many acres of land zoned for farming that the county's Planning Commission says doesn't meet the state's designations for farm and forest and isn't suitable for growing. The Commission recently voted 4-3 to create a new zone that would allow owners to get their land reclassified. County Planner Peter Gutowsky says it could create more options for affordable housing, "There's certainly an interest from the Board of County Commissioners to look at ways where additional housing can be provided. this is just one of many potential opportunities to do that."
He says the goal now is to establish eligibility criteria for property owners, "If they don't meet the state's definition for farm or forest land, they would have instructions in our plan that inform them how they would demonstrate compliance to rezone their own property." He tells KBND News, "We want to make sure that additional local criteria that are more restrictive than state law are contemplated - one being that these types of redesignations take place in a rural fire protection district."
But, Rory Isbell, a lawyer for Central Oregon Landwatch says reclassifying this land would do away with the state's long-standing system to accommodate growth and would create more expense, "By opening up a doorway for more residential use in the rural areas of Deschutes County, this current proposal subverts the orderly system of planned development that we have." He adds, "Housing in these rural areas will not be affordable. The housing that often gets built when agricultural land gets broken up is at the higher end." And, he says, it could be unfair, "It's allowing an agricultural landowner to try to have different treatment than all of the other agricultural landowners and farmers that exist out in the county."
County Commissioners will likely be asked to weigh in, this fall. Gutowsky says there's still much to consider, like which land could be eligible, and what uses would be allowed.