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Hoffman subdivision plan denied; vesting hearing continued


   A controversial 60-lot subdivision that would have spanned two sides of Gard Canyon was turned down by two members of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners following a hearing April 2.
   Longtime developer Bill Hoffman, of Madras, who had obtained a Measure 37 waiver to subdivide 187 acres on Northwest Fir Lane, was seeking approval for the subdivision.
   Hoffman originally filed the application in February of 2007, and received approval from the planning director -- with 21 conditions, according to attorney Dave Allen, who is providing legal counsel to the county on the matter.
   As one of the conditions, the subdivision was to comply with Measure 49 if it passed in November, as it did. Hoffman asked the Jefferson County Planning Commission to review the director's decision.
   "At the time of the Planning Commission review, Measure 49 was already in effect," Allen added, and the Planning Commission denied the application. Hoffman appealed that decision to the County Commission.
   Commissioners John Hatfield and Bill Bellamy voted to deny the appeal and accept the Planning Commission's decision. Commissioner Mike Ahern, a realtor who has represented Hoffman, declared a conflict of interest and excused himself from the vote.
   Just prior to the subdivision hearing, attorney Ed Fitch, of Redmond, represented Hoffman at a "vesting" hearing. The hearing was to determine if Hoffman had invested sufficiently in the project to have a right to continue under the rules of Measure 37, passed in 2004, which rolled back many land-use regulations to the time when the land was aquired.
   Fitch said that Bill and Darlene Hoffman had spent over $550,000, "most before Measure 49 was even considered by the Legislature."
   Besides the substantial investment, Fitch said that the money was spent and the work was done "in reliance on the law and compliance with the law."
   Pam Hardy, attorney for Central Oregon LandWatch, argued that Hoffman was not vested under common law, which is referred to under Measure 49. Common law is "derived from judicial decisions, rather than from statutes or constitutions."
   "The fact is," she said, "this is still just an application. All that has gone on is the building of a gate, the building of a berm, and paying the basic amounts required to submit preliminary plat approval."
   Neighbor Jerry Ramsey noted that when Hoffman acquired the property in 1972, there was "definitely a county requirement to pursue a subdivision application."
   Ramsey pointed out that of the Hoffmans' 187 acres, 60 are irrigable land, "immediately surrounded on the west, south, and east sides by irrigated fields, and on the north side by irrigated pastures."
   "How the continued productive farming of these lands -- requiring cultivation day and night, dust, noise, aerial spraying, field-burning -- how all this could ever coexist with the lifestyles of 60 residential households in the middle of it all -- is beyond comprehension," he said.
   Gary Harris, who owns nearby farmland, said that the Hoffman application fails in several areas.
   "Mr. Hoffman proceeded with preparations without all the permits in place," he said, citing lack of approval from North Unit Irrigation District, as well as the lack of permits for fill and grading, septic, and the subdivision as a whole.
   Harris accused Hoffman of rushing "to finish preliminary land preparations for his subdivision without the necessary permits," and overstating the expenses he had incurred.
   "For him to include a $92,000 salary is preposterous," Harris said. "That is like paying myself $80,000 for management and planning on my farm, and then telling the county I qualify for a farm dwelling."
   Scott Samsel, who farms property adjacent to the proposed subdivision, asked how Hoffman was able to put a causeway across Campbell Creek.
   Samsel estimated that after Hoffman blasted away part of the rimrock to put in a causeway over Gard Canyon, he used about 35 feet of fill to extend some 150 feet across the canyon.
   "Nobody checked it out," he said. "Will it stand up to one of these runoffs?"
   Granting Fitch's request for a continuance, the commission set Wednesday, April 23, after 1:30 p.m. for their decision on vesting.