Opposition continues despite changes to rural Oregon land use bill
SALEM — Supporters of a bill to relax Oregon's land use restrictions in slow-growing counties were unable to overcome objections to the proposal despite several revisions.
Nonetheless, Senate Bill 432 was referred to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means on June 26 by the Senate Rules Committee, albeit without a "do pass" recommendation.
Under the original language of the bill, counties with fewer than 50,000 residents that have experienced no growth since the previous federal population census were exempted from statewide land use planning goals.
The amended version of SB 432 allows such slow-growing counties, and the cities within them, to adopt exceptions to statewide land use planning goals.
Such exceptions cannot take place on high-value farmland or adversely affect areas protected under a preservation plan for the Greater sage grouse, a sensitive bird species.
The amendment also clarifies that counties that experience population growth greater than 4 percent or 1,000 residents between census reports cannot qualify for new land use exceptions.
"For all the angst over this bill, the impact on the ground is very small," said Dave Hunnicutt, executive director of Oregonians In Action, a property rights group that supports SB 432.
The Association of Oregon Counties and the League of Oregon Cities also support the bill, with representatives testifying that it provides economically-struggling counties with more autonomy.
Local governments are often blocked from undertaking relatively minor land use change because they can't afford the costly studies required, said Erin Doyle, intergovernmental relations associate with the League of Oregon Cities.
The bill's scope would effectively be limited to eight of Oregon's 36 counties: Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Sherman, Wallowa and Wheeler.
Although the proposal's breadth was narrowed, the Oregon Farm Bureau and the 1,000 Friends of Oregon conservation group have maintained their opposition to SB 432.
Easing development in rural areas has raised worries about skyrocketing land values, potentially pricing farmers and ranchers out of the market while reducing sales for key agricultural suppliers, said Mary Anne Nash, public policy counsel for Oregon Farm Bureau.
"The biggest concern is everyone around them will parcelize out," she said.
High-value farmland is defined narrowly in the bill, excluding irrigation properties and those valuable for ranching, said Mary Kyle McCurdy, deputy director of 1,000 Friends of Oregon.
Land use restrictions haven't been shown to suppress economic development, but SB 432 would create different rules for different counties, said McCurdy.
"Predictability will be gone," she said.