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Commission holds the line on land-use policy

However, officials allow destination resorts and hint they might look at rezoning certain areas
News Editor
   April 16, 2003 — The Jefferson County Commission on Thursday adopted a revised package of zoning ordinances that excludes the controversial “Lot of Record” provision but opens the door to destination resorts.
    Before more than 40 onlookers in the county’s annex building, commissioners Walt Ponsford, Mary Zemke and Bill Bellamy passed the ordinances unanimously but chose to postpone a decision on the forest management zone in the face of a likely appeal.
    As written, the land-use ordinances will maintain Jefferson County’s reputation for having one of the most restrictive zoning policies in the state. But Zemke, reiterating what she had said in previous hearings, hinted that the commission now might pursue loosening development restrictions in certain areas by creating rural residential zones.
    “We can put them all in one area,” Zemke said of the smaller, hobby-style family farms that have cropped up in other counties. “Don’t scatter them throughout all of ag.”
   
Lot of Record debated
   
    Prior to the election of Zemke and Ponsford, the previous county commission two times passed zoning ordinances that would have allowed so-called Lot of Record dwellings in agricultural land zoned for exclusive farm use.
    That would have given property owners the ability to bypass acreage and farm-income requirements to establish farmland homes if they had owned their property prior to 1985.
    Throughout the ongoing land-use quagmire, the Lot of Record provision proved the most controversial, and its inclusion in the two prior adoptions was met with legal challenges from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, 1,000 Friends of Oregon and a handful of farmers.
    Last Thursday, the commissioners approached the subject with lively discussion.
    Bellamy, who has voted twice to adopt the Lot of Record statute, reiterated his belief in the provision, but ultimately voted with Zemke and Ponsford to exclude it.
    “The Lot of Record is not the real answer, but I believe it’s a property-rights issue,” Bellamy said.
    “I have continued to believe that what we really need is flexibility.”
    Zemke said she equated farming to an industrial activity, adding: “I don’t believe in putting houses in the industrial land.”
    Zemke also paraphrased the concerns of several farmers who testified against Lot of Record dwellings during an October 2001 hearing, arguing that a majority of people living on the resource lands opposed this type of development.
    “I think the Realtors’ point is that we need more development,” said Zemke, again touting her idea of rezoning certain areas to possibly allow hobby farms.
    “Lot of Record wouldn’t give us a lot of growth.”
    Ponsford admitted he personally did not favor the Lot of Record provision, but left the door open to revisit the subject at a later date.
    The commission chairman said allowing nonfarm homes in farmland “would be like putting a mansion in our industrial park.” He said it might cause too many conflicts between farmers and newer, non-farming residents.
    “There’s nothing worse than a farmer going out at 3 a.m. with a bailer and being cussed at at 7 a.m.,” Ponsford said.
   
Rangeland changes
   
    In addition to striking the Lot of Record provision, the commissioners removed a section of the rangeland zone that would have permitted property owners to build homes on 40-acre parcels if they had held their land prior to 1993.
    The most significant change in this zone, however, was the addition of destination resorts. They now can be sited in rangeland as long as they adhere to the so-called three-mile buffer. In other words, a destination resort cannot be within three miles of high-value farmland, or a concentration of commercial farms.
    “I am excited about the possibility of a destination resort in Jefferson County,” Zemke said. “It will allow for some fantastic development opportunities.”
   
Forest zone unresolved
   
    The commissioners’ decision to delay adoption of the county’s forest management zone might have been because of the Ponderosa Land & Cattle Company’s recent purchase of 12,000 acres in an area known as Squaback Tract east of Camp Sherman.
    The cattle company has indicated it has the grounds to appeal the proposed zoning changes, which significantly revised the amount of allowable development in the county’s western forest lands. Ponderosa purchased its property from Weyerhaeuser for $12 million.
    Bellamy lamented the fact that little testimony has been offered on the forest management zone during the past three years of hearings, and took the opportunity during deliberations Thursday to give attorney Paul Dewey a tongue lashing because of it.
    He criticized Dewey, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ former attorne — who was present — for delaying the process by offering no testimony last year before initiating the first of two appeals to the prior commission’s zoning plan. At the same time, he praised the Tribes’ new attorney, Tami MacLeod, for communicating Warm Springs’ concerns to Jefferson County.
    “We kept asking their original attorney, and we got no response,” Bellamy said.
    However, Bellamy said revisiting the forest management zone now would present a good opportunity for both sides to reach a compromise.
    After the hearing, representatives of the groups that have appealed the prior ordinances indicated they were happy with the new version.
    Dave Stevenson, one of the former appellants, said growers would like to see zoning that allows development, but doesn’t threaten commercial farming.
    “I think there’s been a lot of false information out there that we are opposed to growth,” Stevenson said.
    Regarding Zemke’s plans to initiate discussions on the rezoning of areas of nonproductive farmland, Stevenson said: “That’s what we were saying three years ago.”