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Bill would exempt some counties from state land-use system

Senate panel agrees to introduce it for 2015; similar proposals have failed in the past.


SALEM — Oregon lawmakers will consider exempting counties with low populations and slow growth from the statewide land-use planning system in 2015.

The Senate Committee on Rural Communities and Economic Development voted Dec. 8 to introduce this proposal as a bill in the upcoming legislative session.

Under Legislative Concept 919, counties with fewer than 50,000 people in which the population hasn’t increased since the last national census would not have to comply with statewide goals and regulations in their land use plans.

The bill’s goal is to make rural areas more attractive for business development and allow existing companies to expand, creating jobs.

The legislation would affect counties in Eastern Oregon that suffer from higher unemployment and lower incomes than the rest of the state, said Dave Hunnicutt, executive director of the Oregonians In Action property rights group.

“These counties are dying on the vine,” he said.

Their problems are at least partly caused by the statewide land use planning system, which precludes local control, Hunnicutt said.

Rules that may make sense for the Portland metropolitan area or another larger city can “conspire” to empty out small towns already affected by the mechanization of agriculture, farm succession difficulties and other issues, said Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario.

“One size does not fit all,” said Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena.

Washington lawmakers have allowed small, non-growing counties to opt out of its own “growth management” land-use planning system, he said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Washington’s Okanogan County opted out of the statewide system and it has developed very similarly to Kittitas County, which also has a small population but opted into the system, said Perry Huston, Okanogan County’s planning director.

The difference is that Okanogan County has greater flexibility in responding to opportunities for economic growth, he said. For example, local farmers are able to undertake residential or commercial developments that buttress their finances, Huston said.

Meanwhile, agriculture remains a viable economic sector and nobody has seen the “downfall of planning” in counties that opted out of the system, he said.

Apart from the land-use exemption proposal, the committee agreed to introduce nine other bills during the 2015 legislative session that deal with how certain county road funds are spent, the duties of county clerks, elections procedures, government contracts, natural gas service and Oregon State Fair operations.

mperkowski@capitalpress.com

(503) 364-4431

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