Commissioners criticize land use laws

Last week’s updates to the Josephine County Land Use Code – Title 19 – were long in the making. JoCo Deputy Planning Director James Black said that some of the Oregon statutes newly incorporated into Title 19 were passed in the year 2005.
Black made these remarks during the Josephine County Board of Commissioners’ Oct. 11 weekly business session, held at Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass.
“We had several land use hearings for this,” Black said while addressing the Josephine County Board of Commissioners.”The Rural Planning Commission looked through all this stuff and recommended approval, moving it forward to the board. The board had three land use hearings, if you recall, going through all these changes and whatnot. And then here we are at the last step in the ordinance process.”
Board Chair Herman Baertschiger briefly explained why the commissioners are instituting these code updates despite all three being opposed to some of them:
“Where this stems from is the Oregon Legislature has made statutory changes in the law concerning land use codes. And then what we do is we are mandated to roll them into our county code for enforcement. If we do not roll them into our county code for enforcement, our planning department will work out of two books. Basically they’ll be looking at Oregon statutes and they’ll be looking at our ordinances. So what this does is just put it in the ordinances so they only have to look in one book basically.”
The board chair continued, “It’s not real palatable for me because a lot of these changes in the Legislature, I was in the Legislature and I voted no. So it puts me in an interesting space because now that I’m at the county level, I have to take something that I voted no and put it into our county ordinances. So I struggle with that.”
Black confirmed that legally, the county has no choice but to adopt the state rules, then went on to detail the noteworthy land use amendments. As he explained during the first reading of the ordinance Sept. 27, agrotourism guidelines are a major component, as well as new public event rules for wineries and breweries.
During public testimony, all three citizen commentators – Judy Ahrens, Bill Hunker and Victor Zaitsev – expressed disapproval of the state rules, saying they hamper personal property rights.
“If the state told us to not use our toilets or restrooms for a day, would we do that?” Ahrens questioned rhetorically. “A little bit here of our land rights, a little bit here of our land rights, and all of a sudden we’re going to be like these other countries.”
“I didn’t understand before I read that, that we were going to be overrun by agrotourism and cider manufacturers, and I thought, man alive, did I miss that?” Hunker weighed in. “I keep up with the county pretty well. Boy, those cider manufacturers, they’re coming and we better really get on it.”
Finally, Zaitsev stated, “Everyone weighs the flag of progress and development, but then the county seems to go out of its way to do everything possible to stifle it at every turn with very disjointed, complicated, and very costly processes. I often hear you are just complying with state statute, yet when the state implemented a statute to be able to have guns taken from citizens through an archaic and unreasonable statute, the county chose to ignore it by preventing any funds to be used to enforce it. Why that and not this?”

Baertschiger defended himself and his peers from the criticism that they are not doing enough to stand up to the state government by explaining that the legal consequences of not completing would be costly and the end result would be the same after the courts overrule the county. He illustrated his point by saying this happened when the county pushed back on land development restrictions in the event a property does not fall under a fire protection district.

“I’m wondering where all the personal property rights people are standing up against this,” Commissioner Dan DeYoung responded. “The state is dictating how we are going to live, where we’re going to live and what we’re going to live in… None of them makes any sense and it doesn’t make any sense to us three up here.”

“The people in Salem, in Portland and Eugene have no concept of what it’s like to live in Harney County, in Malheur County, Klamath County or even Josephine County for that matter and they don’t particularly care,” DeYoung opined. “It’s the three Ws: well, wood stove and weapons. They don’t like any three of those so they’re going to move us all into the city and we’re all going to flush the same toilet and then we have to deal with it. So this is a really tough one.”

Similarly vexed, Commissioner John West said, “It makes me sick to my stomach that the state wants to continue to not give us a choice… In my opinion, the state has a goal to put everybody inside the city and put you in here so you ride the electric bus, get rid of your vehicle and they can control you. They don’t like rural county.”

“We hear in the news all the time about the shortage of housing in Oregon,” Baertschiger said. “This is the reason; this is the reason you can’t build affordable housing in Oregon, because of statewide land use planning. You can’t do it. It’s the Legislature. It’s not these commissioners and it’s sad.”

With a 2-1 vote, the board approved the land use amendments. West was the no vote, and he cited the ordinance’s property rights intrusions which he did not agree with.