Oregon regulators are challenging a plan to allow more rural housing on farmland and forestland in Douglas County that was approved last month.
In March, Douglas County decided to open about 22,500 acres to the development of 20-acre homes sites on properties that it had found were of marginal value for agriculture and forestry.
Two Oregon agencies — the Department of Land Conservation and Development and the Department of Fish and Wildlife — have now objected to that amendment of the county’s comprehensive plan before the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals.
A conservation nonprofit, 1,000 Friends of Oregon, has also appealed the change to LUBA.
“Our livelihood depends on this land,” said Shelley Wetherell, president of local affiliate Friends of Douglas County. “We’d like to see it preserved long-term for farm and forest uses, not residential sprawl.”
Originally, Douglas County planned to designate 35,000 acres as “rural open space” where larger parcels can be divided into 20-acre home sites.
The properties eligible for that zone change were scaled down to 22,500 acres after the county used additional data overlays to exclude higher-quality farmland, forestland and wildife habitat from the designation.
Properties must also fall within two miles of 25 existing cities and rural communities to qualify for the new zone.
Less than one percent of Douglas County’s total area qualifies for the “rural open space” designation and county officials only expect about one-fourth of eligible properties will be developed.
However, Friends of Douglas County believes the plan sets too high a threshold for what’s considered valuable farm and forest land, said Wetherell.
Lower-quality soils, for example, “are still suitable for grazing and they may be suitable for other things,” she said.
The county would allow 20-acre parcels on forestland that annually generates fewer than 85 cubic feet of timber per acre, but “a lot of logs” are harvested from such properties, Wetherell said.
Some areas in Douglas County are suitable for timber and grazing, she said. “It’s dual purpose.”
It’s also possible that more rural development won’t be financially beneficial for the county, Wetherell said. “The (tax) revenue from the houses may not be what it costs for the county services.”
Josh LeBombard, Southern Oregon Regional Representative for DLCD, said state officials can’t comment on the pending litigation. Capital Press was unable to reach Keith Cubic, Douglas County’s planning director, for comment.
On average, appeals to LUBA are resolved within four to eight months, but the board’s decision can then be challenged before the Oregon Court of Appeals.