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Officials eye 1,000 acres east of town for new residential zone

Commission continues tackling land-use issues on several fronts

by: Photo By Troy Foster - This land, owned by the city of Madras just east of Juniper Hills Park, could be the site of a future rural residential zone that would allow hobby farms.

News Editor
   June 4, 2003 — County officials are looking at a new frontier.
   And if they were early day pioneers, their motto might be: "Wagons east!"
   With the most recent fight over the future of Jefferson County's land-use policy behind it, the county commission has set its sight on several new goals.
   One includes rezoning roughly 1,000 acres east of Madras into a new rural residential zone. That could allow for growth through the creation of small acreage lots potentially for so-called hobby farms.
   And a second activity, encouraged by commissioner Mary Zemke, is to explore rezoning other pockets of land throughout the county.
   Commission Chairman Walt Ponsford, meanwhile, is continuing his effort to try to resolve divided feelings over so-called "Lot of Record" dwellings with a new approach.
   
A rural residential zone

   The effort to create a 1,000-acre rural residential zone east of town has been in the works for several weeks.
   Several entities, including 1,000 Friends of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Farm Bureau and private developers, have participated in workshops with the county's board of commissioners and planning commission on the new zone.
   Planning Director Butch Parker said he hopes to put the proposal before the planning commission for hearings by late July or early August. It would be land contiguous to the city's current urban growth boundary, and likely would include property owned by the Bean Foundation, Andy Morrow and the city of Madras.
   "We haven't determined exactly how large the lots would be right now," Parker said. "So we don't have a title for it, other than it would be some type of new rural residential zone."
   Jon Jinings, a regional representative for the state Department of Land Conservation and Development, said the county has every right to pursue rezoning, but it might have to show the land does not fall under the state's definition of agricultural land.
   He said his agency, which enforces state land-use planning goals, will take a look at soil classifications, among other things.
   "If we have concerns about them looking at this stuff, it could come up with the land they're looking at and the types of uses they're intending to place on those lands," Jinings said.
   
Lot of Record

   In April, the Jefferson County Commission adopted a strict land-use policy that rolled back a twice-passed ordinance from the previous commission. The former ordinance was appealed twice, partially because it allowed so-called Lot of Record dwellings.
   The Lot of Record provision allows property owners to bypass acreage and farm-income requirements to establish homes on land they've owned since before to 1985.
   Jefferson County is one of three counties in the state that does not allow Lot of Record dwellings.
   After voting to strike the provision, Commissioner Walt Ponsford pledged to conduct research to determine where the majority of residents living on irrigated farmland stood on the issue. He would vote to reinsert the provision if a majority supported it, Ponsford said at the time.
   He had planned to use high school students to help conduct polling, but canceled two preparatory meetings concerning Lot of Record dwellings last month.
   Ponsford said he called off the process to allow the county to determine exactly how many properties would qualify for a home as a Lot of Record.
   "I was all ready to go and then I started asking where they were and we discovered there was a lot of presumption," Ponsford said.
   "We found out after all the fussing that we really didn't know," he said.
   The county's planning staff currently is tallying the number of eligible properties. Last year, staff had determined roughly 13 properties could qualify for Lot of Record homes. Two home applicants, however, were not among those 13 when they applied for Lot of Record homes between appeals.
   "We went through and took 40 acres or less on the assumption that 40 acres or more in A1 irrigated land would be considered a farm," Parker said. "And then we got people saying, `I've got 160 acres out here and I deserve a Lot of Record.'"
   Ponsford said knowing how many Lot of Records exist will go along way toward reversing the controversy.
   "We're trying to get all our ducks in a row," he said. "It's a mystery that we've gone on with this argument so long and we don't know how many we're talking about."
   
Other lands eyed

   Mary Zemke, an opponent of Lot of Record, has said repeatedly she's not against new development.
   A more wise approach, she said, is to rezone certain pockets of land rather than weakening restrictions that protect farming across the board.
   "Remember, when I was fighting Lot of Record, I was thinking rezoning was a better option," Zemke said.
   Now she wants to know what land citizens would like to see rezoned. This process hinges on public input, she said.
   "I think it'll actually suit people's needs better and protect farmers in the meantime," Zemke said of rezoning.
   Zemke encourages anyone with rezoning ideas to contact the county's planning department.
   "If people think their property should be rezoned they should talk about it," Zemke said. "As it is, we only know about certain properties that people mention to us because people keep talking about them."
   Parker said the Lake Simtustus RV Park property and land near Grizzly Mountain are two areas that have generated some rezoning discussion. The RV park cannot expand because it's in the A1 Exclusive Farm Use zone.
   "The Grizzly area has been a focal point of people saying we need to get this out of rangeland and in to something different," Parker said.