Commissioners bypass planning commission
Against opposition voiced by concerned citizens, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners voted two to one June 28 to bypass the planning commission for approval of certain subdivisions.
Subdivisions approved as part of the Measure 37 process will go directly to the County Commission, while any other subdivisions will go to the planning commission.
"I'm begging the other two commissioners to reconsider and make sure everyone is treated equally," said Chairman Walt Ponsford, after Commissioner Bill Bellamy announced his plan to have the County Commission serve as hearings body for subdivision applications.
"I have not given up on the idea that (Measure 37 applicants) should be asked to perform on the same basis as everyone else," Ponsford said.
Aside from recognizing the effort Bellamy had put into his proposal, Commissioner Mary Zemke had no comment before voting with Bellamy to make the County Commission the hearings body.
As the hearings body, the County Commission will hold public hearings on subdivision applications from property owners with Measure 37 waivers.
Measure 37, passed in November of 2004, gives property owners the right to ask local or state government for compensation when the property owners can show that regulations passed after they acquired their property reduced the value of their property. Local or state government has the option of waiving regulations -- as Jefferson County has done -- rather than paying compensation.
To date, the county has granted waivers to about 50 property owners, affecting well over 4,000 acres of county property. Over 30 of those property owners plan to develop subdivisions -- ranging in size from four homes up to 150 or more.
Bellamy made the proposal to speed up the subdivision approval process for those with Measure 37 waivers, who have complained that the county is not following the law, and is holding up their plans.
Both Bellamy and Ponsford have been targeted in a recall effort by the Measure 37 Committee, who contend that three lawsuits against the county could cost the county millions. The lawsuits claim that when the county granted waivers, it didn't properly release property, to allow it to be transferred.
County Attorney Jacki Haggerty has pointed out that the state attorney general's office has issued an opinion that the waivers are not transferrable. Pending further court decisions, that is the opinion guiding governments statewide.
In addition, the text of the measure states that claims "shall be paid from funds, if any, specifically allocated by the Legislature, city, county, or metropolitan service district for payment of claims under this act ... If a claim has not been paid within two years from the date on which it accrues, the owner shall be allowed to use the property as permitted at the time the owner acquired the property."
The County Commission did not allocate funds to pay compensation, Haggerty wrote in a March memo, "Therefore, there is zero county liability for payment of claims."
Before agreeing to bypass the planning commission, the board of commissioners listened to comments from the public. Jerry Ramsey of Madras asked if the commission is prepared to take on the land-use process.
"You'll politicize a process that should not be political. It would be a particularly disastrous way to go," Ramsey said. "Without the planning commission, all the power seems to be in the hands of the commissioners."
Bill Atherton, of Madras, echoed Ramsey's sentiments. "This is a hurried process. Average people can't come down here and participate in the middle of the day. When you have a serious discussion on things, you (should) try to assemble all of the people."
Suggesting that some people are getting special consideration, Atherton commented, "The whole process here has been weighted toward a very few people, at the expense of the general public."
David Stevenson, who farms on Agency Plains north of Madras, said he has concerns about Bellamy's proposal, and the fact that the commission has allowed Measure 37 applicants to submit incomplete waivers applications -- many of which have been granted.
As he has followed the Measure 37 process in the newspaper, Stevenson said he has thought to himself that it can't be happening as it appears. "I sit here today and say it is happening," he said, noting the approval of subdivisions next to farmland. "What made this community strong is going to be destroyed."
Former commissioner Jodi Eagan, of Madras, told the commission that it has the future of the county in its hands. "I remind you that you represent all the people of Jefferson County, not just a handful of very aggressive people."
Eagan contacted other commissioners around the state and found that other counties have kept the planning commission involved in the process. "There has been no special treament of Measure 37," she said.
Madras planner Chuck McGraw said that special concessions for a 150-unit subdivision "scares me as a planner and a citizen." He cautioned the commission that they would be circumventing citizen involvement by taking the planning commission out of the process.
If the planning commission, as the hearings body, turns down a subdivision application, it can be appealed to the County Commission. If the County Commission is the hearings body and turns down an application, it must be appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals.
"A lot of people can't afford to appeal to LUBA," McGraw noted.
City Administrator Mike Morgan also questioned why the county would bypass the planning commission, noting that there are "objective standards measuring the completeness of an application."
Scott Samsel, a Madras farmer, said that Measure 37 applicants shouldn't get special treatment. "As you protect citizens, you need to think about folks like David Stevenson and myself, who are trying to farm," he said, noting that it will be much more difficult with a subdivision within 25 feet of their property.
"A lot of folks still think milk comes from a carton in a grocery store," he continued. "The decisions you make ... It's not just going to affect us, it could kill us."
Bellamy said that the county needs to get the Measure 37 applications moving, and his proposal could reduce the process from about nine months to four months.
"We can't have this cancer sitting in our community. Other counties haven't spent one-tenth the time we've spent in this county."
Ponsford said he is resigned to the fact that some of the subdivisions will be going in, but he hopes they will be required to meet the same standards as non-Measure 37 subdivisions.
Federal, state and local standards have improved communities, Ponsford pointed out. "Long ago, we left behind the notion of `buyer beware,'" he said. "If it is quality, then everyone's value rises."
Prior to the vote on the Measure 37 subdivision process, the commission approved two new waivers, and took no action on two others.
Mike and Margo Alley, and J.D. and Tammy Alley, all of Culver, asked for a waiver to divide about 160 acres, located east of Elbe Drive and north of Franklin Lane, into two parcels of about 80 acres each. They have owned the property since 1990, when the zoning was the same -- exclusive farm use A-1.
In 1990, however, there was no income requirement before an EFU property could be divided into 80-acre parcels.
Zemke moved to waive all regulations back to 1990, and Bellamy seconded the motion. Haggerty advised the commission that Zemke's motion was not the motion recommended by staff, which stated specifically what the Alleys could do with the waiver.
Zemke and Bellamy supported the waiver, while Ponsford voted against it because it was incomplete.
Charles and Kay Simmelink, of Madras, asked to divide a 38-acre EFU parcel on Highway 361 and Southwest Bear Drive into lots of at least one acre each, with a dwelling on each. The Simmelinks acquired the property in 1967, when it was in an A-1 agriculture district.
Zemke again moved to waive all regulations back to 1967, but the motion died for lack of a second. Bellamy moved to allow the Simmelinks to divide the property as proposed, but his motion also died when neither of the other commissioners offered a second.
The Simmelinks sought a waiver to divide an additional 14 acres they acquired in 1989 south of Colfax Lane on the old Culver Highway into two-acre lots with a dwelling on each.
Bellamy's motion to approve their plan died for lack of a second. Zemke's motion to allow the Simmelinks to use their land as permitted when they acquired the property died for lack of a second. Ponsford declined to support the motions on either of the Simmelinks' properties because their applications were deemed incomplete.
The commission unanimously approved a complete application by Jackie and Marilyn Middleton, of Madras, to divide a 34-acre parcel west of Madras, north of Belmont Lane on Mountain View Drive, into lots of at least 2.5 acres, with a dwelling on each.
The Middletons have owned the property, currently zoned EFU A-2, since 1978, when it was zoned recreational-residential R-2, which allowed lots of 2.5 acres.