IVN Contributing Writer
The Josephine County Board of Commissioners voiced their dissatisfaction with land use changes brought forth by the Oregon Legislature during their Sept. 27 weekly business session.
If approved, Ordinance 2023-005 will adopt state land use changes into the Josephine County Code. Specifically, Title 19 – Rural Land Development Code: Chapter 19.64 – Exclusive Farm and Farm Resource Zones; and Chapter 19.65 – Forest Commercial Woodlot Resource Zones.
JoCo Deputy Community Development Director James Black approached the podium after Board Chair Herman Baertschiger asked him sarcastically, “Tell us what the wisdom of Salem has blessed upon us.”
According to Black, this ordinance has been in the works for over five years: “Back in 2017, staff realized that our county code had not updated the farm and forest sections since about 2005… From there we gathered all the state laws that had occurred since 2005 and went through the process. We went through the code line by line looking for changes or discrepancies and went through that process.”
Black explained that in 2019, his department was preparing to ask the Board of Commissioners to approve the ordinance, but it came to his attention that Oregon lawmakers had made significant changes to farm and woodland land use rules throughout that year, so they went “back to the drawing board” to incorporate the added changes.
On Aug. 15, 2022, the JoCo Planning Commission recommended the land use updates ordinance go to the county board for approval, which led to a series of hearings before the county commissioners April 17, May 8 and May 22.
“The ordinance that we have here today represents all that work from all those years,” Black said. One of the biggest changes Black specified was allowing for events and festivities related to the emerging practice of agrotourism at locations such as wineries, breweries and cider houses. In addition, the state has made distinctions between small, mid-sized and large wineries and mandated specific land use rules for each.
“In the wood light resource zone,” Black added, “we see mandatory changes to, if you have an existing home and you want to replace it, relocate it, there’s some new regulation from the state mandated. We have to have it added to our code.”
Following Black’s presentation, the county commissioners had a chance to weigh in. Commissioner Dan DeYoung observed, “It’s a large ordinance with a whole bunch of changes.” In light of that, he wanted to assure the citizens of Josephine County, “No matter what we stamp up here and what you come up with and what all these committees and commissions come up with, there is always an appeals process.”
Commissioner John West wanted to clarify that all of the changes in the ordinance are required by the state; none of them were proposed by the county commissioners or county staff.
Baertschiger criticized Oregon politics during his speaking time, saying, “I just want to point out in Oregon, how the Oregon Legislature just absolutely micromanages high value resource lands until one of their preferred clients wants to convert high value resource lands. Then they just do a special bill and convert it.”
The board chair continued, “The Legislature just micromanages it, makes it so complicated. And that’s probably my biggest disappointment with this. Even from the height of trees you can have; there’s a provision on how high the trees are. So there it is. It is absolutely crazy and it’s an example of legislators who have absolutely no experience in the natural resources, in forest management or agriculture management, but yet they are the ones that are making these decisions.
“And so, you know, I’m going to vote for this because we’re just adhering to the law. But the principles behind this law I’m adamantly against.”
Of particular concern to Illinois Valley residents, one of the new state land use laws requires dwellings built in forest zones to fall under a rural fire protection district or contract with a private firefighting service. There are portions of the I.V. that do not have either of those conditions available, and thus a dwelling could not be built on such properties.
After a few minutes of discussing how a property that is not in a fire district or have access to a private fire company could possibly get approved to have a dwelling built on it, Baertschiger remarked, “I actually took the time to read through all this and there’s so many things that don’t make any kind of sense, which after serving eight years in the (Oregon) Senate doesn’t surprise me in the least.”
When asked what the consequences would be of not adopting the state land use changes into the Josephine County Code, Black responded, “County legal departments probably would get very busy if we didn’t get some of these rules set in place in our code.”
Baertschiger later said, “I guess to make a long story short, we have to move this forward because of statute. That doesn’t mean that we have to agree with it, but I don’t know – it’s a tough deal because I’m just opposed to so many of these changes.”
Ultimately, all three commissioners voted to advance Ordinance 2023-005 to a second reading, slated for Oct. 11.