by: Photo By Holly M. Gill - Glenn Kotara

   The neighbors say no, but the Jefferson County Planning Commission said yes to a request from a Bend developer to rezone a 40-acre parcel on the west side of Madras.
   Today, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners will deliberate on the request by Glenn Kotara of GMK Developments to rezone the property, located north of Sunset and Rimrock drives on the west side of Madras, from exclusive farm use to rural residential with a 2-acre minimum.
   Kotara is proposing an 18-lot subdivision with high-end homes on the property. As a backup plan, he has also submitted an application to the city of Madras for an urban growth boundary expansion, so that he could eventually build 110 homes on much smaller lots.
   Even though he has been a developer of subdivisions for over 30 years, this would be his first in Madras. "Madras was not on my radar screen," said Kotara.
   Then, a local realtor contacted him and suggested that a property south of Belmont was similar to the scenic Majestic Ridge property he developed in Redmond, and he was intrigued enough to take a look, which led to the purchase.
   In order for Kotara to develop the property as proposed, the commission must grant exceptions to two statewide planning goals: Goal 3, which provides for the protection of agricultural land; and Goal 14, which limits urbanization.
   Representing Kotara, development consultant Butch Parker pointed out that the property has not had water since 1998, and has been vacant for the last few years. When they tested 118 soil samples, 49 percent came back class 7 -- unsuitable for cultivation, while the remainder was class 6 -- severe limitations for agriculture.
   The former owner of the property, who owns the property to the north, along Belmont Lane, intended to develop the property, Parker said, noting that it abuts the city limits on the east.
   If Kotara is allowed to develop, he plans to provide access from the subdivision north to Belmont Lane, in addition to overlaying both Sunset and Rimrock.
   Real estate broker Dick Junge said that the property was unsuited to the exclusive farm use designation, and Kotara's proposed subdivision would be compatible with existing uses. "There's strong potential to improve the values of the surrounding properties," he said.
   Kotara said that his neighbor to the west, Tom Norton, submitted a letter supporting his application. "He feels the property is nonfarmable," said Kotara. "Go walk on that property yourself; if you think it's farmable, I'll go along with you."
   Attorney Ellen Grover, representing the Juniper Heights Coalition -- a group of neighbors who oppose the subdivision -- said there is a surplus of residential land around the city, and the goal of state laws is to protect agricultural land from encroachment.
   "There's very little in the record to say that an exception to Goal 3 should be taken," she said, adding that it's a "very narrow rule."
   According to Goal 14, she continued, "If you can accommodate housing in the urban growth boundary, you can't grant an exception."
   "Staff originally decided (the application) didn't meet criteria," Grover said. "None of that's changed."
   Gary Harris, of Madras, said the county shouldn't be planning by application. "You've got a city that says no, and now the county's going to say yes?"
   "I'm upset that you're abandoning the traditional process," Harris said, noting that the county is supposed to consider urban reserve lands first, followed by exceptions areas, and finally natural resource land of lesser value for urbanization.
   Responding to an earlier comment, Wayne Marshall, whose property abuts the parcel, said it is unfair to say that Norton has the most to lose with the development. "The record needs to be set straight instead of the speculation and malarkey we've been hearing," he said.
   Marshall said that the soil test holes were dug on the edges of the property, "not out in the middle of the field where farming takes place. That property could have irrigation rights brought back on it."
   He asked the commission to "follow the law," and deny the application.
   Neighbor Ray Potter agreed, "This application does not meet the requirements of Oregon law. We're asking that you deny the application."
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