County planning code update nearing completion
About 2,500 Crook County property owners were recently sent a notice from the county planning department that contained information that could affect their property.
"This is to notify you that the planning department on behalf of the Crook County Court is proposing a land use regulation(s) that may affect the permissible uses of your property and other properties," the notice states … in all capital letters … at the top of the page.
Concerned recipients called and sent emails to the county planning department and others stopped by, hoping to understand what changes will be made and how they will impact property owners.
The County Planning Commission will soon hold a public hearing in hopes of answering those questions and explaining a new code update that is primarily intended to make navigation of the county code easier.
The origin of the changes can be traced back to 2017 when a grant received by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) spurred work to improve county planning codes statewide.
"They hired some consultants to do a model code update for all of the counties," explained Crook County Planner Katie McDonald.
One of the primary changes made was to create tables that more clearly explained what uses are allowed in different zones, what review procedures are required for those uses, and what parts of a county code the use is subject to.
Currently, the Crook County code is text intensive and its online descriptions of different land uses often include hyperlinks to state statute, which McDonald said is even more cumbersome to navigate.
As an example, she pulls up a section of the code that explains outright uses for Exclusive Farm Use 1 zones. Part of the text includes a hyperlink to a state statute, but when she clicks it, it pulls up the start of the statute chapter, rather than the applicable language.
"Then you have to scroll all the way down to where you think your (information) is," she says. "We are basically taking all of this (state statute) information and bringing it to the (county) code."
The changes feature new tables for the exclusive farm use (EFU) portion of the land use code as well as the forest zone.
Other proposed changes seek to clean up the land use definitions portion of the code. McDonald noted that the portions of the code related to the farm and forest zones included specific definitions that were not found elsewhere. To streamline the information, those definitions were moved into the section where the other land use definitions are found.
Some new definitions have been proposed and others have been merged, McDonald said, adding that some of the definitions information will be displayed in a table format.
The code change will also combine three different EFU zone chapters into one. McDonald noted that when planning staff and commissioners began scrutinizing the chapters, they realized that each one had some unique differences but were mostly the same.
"So we said instead of having three separate chapters, let's have one chapter and keep those unique differences there," she said.
Other changes include the addition of new uses to the forest zone, such as "permanent facility for the primary processing of forest products," a use that is currently temporary. Other uses were removed from forest and EFU zones, such as golf courses, disposal sites for solid waste and residential homes.
Crook County planning leaders based these changes on what they felt best suits local needs. For example, the group determined that a permanent facility for processing forest products made better sense than a temporary one in Crook County. On the other hand, because residential home facilities function best in close proximity to medical services, it didn't make sense to keep it as a use in EFU and forest zones, which can be far away from such services.
Update of the land use code has been a massive undertaking, McDonald said, that has taken around two years to reach fruition. It started with a small work group that included planning commissioners reviewing the code and continued through to lengthy work sessions this past January and February.
"They were really diligent," McDonald said of the planning commissioners.
Once a public hearing was scheduled, it triggered distribution of the Measure 56 notice that potentially affected property owners recently received in the mail. McDonald explained that any time changes get made to the planning code that "may or may not affect property," DLCD requires the county to send out the notice.
In addition to the all-capitals notification at the top of the page, the document announces the time and location of the public hearings, how and when to provide written testimony, and a summary of what changes are proposed.
McDonald encourages interested residents to attend the public hearing, where they will be shown a PowerPoint presentation on the proposed changes and have the opportunity to ask questions or provide input.
"Our goal is to make the code easier to navigate," she said.