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County reverses Metolius partition


   A controversial partitioning decision made by the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners in December was reversed this month, with the commission awarding attorney's fees to the appelant.
   In a 2-0 decision, with Commission Chairman Bill Bellamy not voting due to a conflict of interest, the commission withdrew and reversed a decision to allow the city of Metolius to partition a small section of the 67-acre exclusive farm use property on which its sewer treatment plant is located.
   In January, Gary Harris, of Madras, notified the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals that he intended to appeal the Dec. 12, 2007, decision by the commission to allow the city to partition and rezone a 2-acre parcel with a house and outbuildings.
   After staff originally denied the partition, the denial was appealed to the County Planning Commission, which also denied the appeal. The city of Metolius, represented by Bellamy as real estate agent, appealed the decision to the County Commission, which granted the partition Dec. 12.
   The city had been having difficulty renting the house out and hoped to be able to partition it so the house could be sold.
   Addressing the commission on April 2, Harris advised the commission, "It behooves you to reconsider. Metolius bought farm land; they play by farm land rules."
   Metolius city councilor Susan Binder explained, "This is no longer productive farm land. With or without a house, it's not going back to what it was."
   Sue Vanek, who lives west of Metolius, and had joined the appeal, said, "They agreed when they bought the property not to divide the property. We have to go by the rules; I don't see why the city of Metolius should get any favors."
   Mickey Killingsworth, of Madras, agreed, noting that if the commission didn't reverse its decision, it would set a precedent. "The condition of the property they bought hasn't changed, except they put a sewer on it," she said. "The state law hasn't changed; the county comp plan hasn't changed."
   Commissioner John Hatfield said he couldn't justify fighting it at LUBA. "The reason I voted for it in the first place," he said, was, "it seemed like the common sense thing to do. I thought it would help the city of Metolius."
   "Even though it made good common sense," said Commissioner Mike Ahern, "I don't want to spend county resources fighting something like this."
   After the commission reconsidered and denied the city of Metolius' request for a partition, Harris commented, "Staff and counsel advised you not to (approve partition). I don't think it's appropriate for citizens to have to spend our private money to make sure you follow the law."
   Following an executive session April 9, the commission unanimously voted to pay Harris $500 for attorney fees, and $175 for filing fees.