LUBA rejects county zone change

Article by Damian Mann published in Ashland Tidings on June 11, 2021.

The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals recently rejected a zone change by Jackson County commissioners that could have opened the door to widespread development of rural properties.

“It is difficult if not impossible to understand what findings the Board of Commissioners relied upon to support the decision,” LUBA wrote in its May 13 ruling.

LUBA sent the zone change back to Jackson County for review.

At issue is a proposal to change the zoning for three properties near Hillside Drive close to Old Stage Road outside of Jacksonville. The property owners want to divide their 5-acre parcels into 2.5 acre parcels.

The zone change was granted by the county as an exception to state land-use laws, specifically Goal 14, which calls for an orderly transition from rural to urban zoning.

Rogue Advocates, a local organization whose goal is to preserve rural lands and create better planned urban centers, appealed the Jackson County zone change.

“This zone change could have set a disastrous precedent potentially impacting over 30,000 acres and leading to increased unsustainable development in rural areas across all of Jackson County,” said Jimmy MacLeod with Rogue Advocates.

The zone change would have potentially allowed a doubling of the density of rural-residential properties near Jacksonville by decreasing the minimum lot size from 5 acres to 2.5 acres, MacLeod said.

Jackson County went through an extensive effort known as Regional Problem Solving in the past decade to expand the boundaries of cities to accommodate future growth and to preserve farmland and other rural lands, he said.

The proposed zone change on these three parcels, MacLeod said, would essentially chip around the edges of those growth areas and consume more rural lands.

“For us, it’s about the precedent that this sets,” he said.

MacLeod said LUBA agreed with the appeal, finding Jackson County provided very little in the way of evidence to support the zone change.

“It’s kind of like Alice in Wonderland logic,” he said.

LUBA, in its ruling, concluded, “We agree with petitioner that we cannot tell precisely what the county concluded or which facts the county found that lead to these conclusions.”

The county did provide information that the typical parcel size in the area surrounding the three properties is 1.42 acres. The area also has more urban services available than many rural properties, LUBA noted.

LUBA found the 449 pages of documents to support the zone change inconclusive and determined the county didn’t address “inconsistencies” in its documentation.

Jackson County didn’t send a representative to LUBA to explain how it decided to adopt the zone change, instead relying on the three separate owners of the parcels to explain the county’s rationale.

“We didn’t participate in the LUBA appeal,” said Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton. “The county’s decision was defended by the applicant.”

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