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More homes could be built in EFU zones

Two commissioners say personal property rights are the key issue in controversial zoning law changes
News Editor
   The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners could approve significant changes to the county's zoning laws today that will allow more homes to be built in areas exclusively reserved for farm and rangeland use.
   Last week, commissioners Bill Bellamy and Mike Ahern indicated that they considered personal property rights the key issue regarding proposed changes that would allow increased development in two Exclusive Farm Use zones, EFU-A1 and EFU-A2, plus the county's Range Land zone, known as RL-EFU.
   "This is an issue that rises above the plebiscite," Ahern said. "I think the majority of people are for this anyway."
   Commission chair Janet Brown, however, told her two counterparts that their intentions to vote in favor of allowing more homes in the county's EFU zones would be a mistake.
   "We are opening a dangerous door if we do this and that's where I stand," Brown said.
   But with a 2-1 majority over Brown, the specifics of changes to the three zones rest in Bellamy's and Ahern's hands as they wrap up deliberations on the most controversial portion of their land-use review today.
   The county began revising its 10-article zoning ordinance more than two years ago as part of a periodic review. The three sections in Article 3 that would allow the construction of homes by property owners previously prohibited from doing so within the agricultural zones have proven to be the most controversial.
   The issue follows a classic scenario -- it's clash in values between property rights advocates and those that believe in protecting agricultural lands from development.
   In the EFU-A1 zone, Ahern and Bellamy said they were in favor of adding what is called "A Lot of Record" to the list of conditional permitted uses.
   A lot of record is defined as a single family dwelling that may be established on a parcel of land lawfully created prior to Jan. 1, 1985. Only individuals who have owned the parcels since before land-use laws came into effect, or inherited them afterward, will be permitted to build homes on them.
   In the EFU-A2 zone, the two commissioners indicated they would also vote in favor of adding what is called a "Dwelling Not in Conjunction with Farm Use" to the list of conditional permitted uses.
   A dwelling not in conjunction with farm use can be built within parcels created prior to Jan. 1, 1993, that are situated on land unsuitable for the production of farm crops and livestock -- but are located in farmland or rangeland zones, nonetheless.
   "The reality is that I believe if I owned a piece of land that I could build on before the laws were passed that I should be able to build on it now," said Bellamy, who is a Republican.
   In the range land zone, the county's planning commission had recommended the addition of both lots of record and dwellings not in conjunction with farm use but Ahern and Bellamy did not reach an agreement on that issue. They were considering approving the latter and eliminating the former, but decided to table discussion until their next deliberation, which begins at 1:30 p.m. today in the Jefferson County Annex building.
   A few other details also need to be worked out, including the minimum parcel sizes of the areas that property owners will soon be allowed to build homes upon. Bellamy said he wanted the planning commission's recommendation reduced -- by how much, he wasn't ready to decide.
   Brown remained fairly quiet during portions of the deliberation while Ahern and Bellamy haggled out the details. Only two county residents attended the commissioners' deliberations.
   According to a county staff report, up to 161 parcels could be eligible to be considered a lot of record in the EFU-A1 zone along with 109 in the RL-EFU zone. Approximate numbers on dwellings not in conjunction with farm use were not tabulated.
   Brown, a Democrat, said her position was staunchly in favor of protecting farmland from development and on the side of public testimony.
   "When you look at these parcels out there a lot of them are out in the Hinterlands where there are no services," she also noted, challenging the argument that more homes would increase the county's tax revenue.
   But Ahern, also a Democrat, said he believed allowing longtime property owners to build on their own land would not open a "floodgate" of development, nor would he play the role of a "social manipulator."
   Jefferson County has long been considered one of the more restrictive counties when it comes to development in resource zones.
   While Brown is not with Ahern or Bellamy on their land-use philosophy, the three all reached at least one consensus -- not to adopt House Bill 3326. That bill, being considered by Crook County and Deschutes County planning officials, would allows residents who own more than 80 acres in EFU zones to parcel off two lots where homes could be constructed.