Mail Tribune, November 28, 2022 –– A local land-use watchdog group has published a guide aimed at making Oregon’s often complicated land-use system easier to understand.
If more people understand the state’s land-use rules — which involve urban growth boundaries and a host of laws intended to preserve the state’s farm and forest lands — more people will be equipped to participate in local land-use decisions, the group believes.
“Oregon has a mandate for the public to have the opportunity to be involved in land-use planning,” said Devin Kesner, land-use program manager for Rogue Advocates. “But with it being a complicated and confusing system to navigate, we wanted to make it easier for people to have some say in decisions that impact how their community changes and grows.”
Rogue Advocates, a local nonprofit, developed the guide — called “Participating in Land Use Decisions” — after years of residents expressing frustration with the inscrutability of Oregon’s land-use laws, she explained.
“After hearing over and over from people who just want to be able contribute their voice to a decision that impacts them, having trouble doing so, that repetitiveness of people facing that challenge was the inspiration for putting it together,” she said.
Kesner said even for those who work in the land-use arena it can be difficult to navigate the knot of Oregon’s laws and regulations. Her own experience learning about the state’s land-use system helped her in building the guide.
Those interested can expect a distilled presentation of the most important facets of land-use law needed for people who want to get involved in decisions about where developments are built.
Oregon’s decades-old land-use system was devised to protect farm and forest land from urban sprawl. Where offices and homes are built also can determine how far and how often cars are driven, as well as impact water quality and quantity.
The group pointed to its recent victory in contributing to the rejection of a Shady Cove mining application as an example of its mission. The application sought approval for mining, crushing, sizing, stockpiling, hauling and blasting within 100 feet of residences, Rogue Advocates said in a press release announcing the new guide.
Trail Creek, a Rogue River tributary, also was too close for comfort to the proposed mining site.
“In the face of sustained opposition from Rogue Advocates and vocal community members, Jackson County made its final decision to deny the application, a huge win for residents and the environment,” the group said.
While many Oregonians feel a vested interest in guiding where new development takes place, staying ahead of projects is challenging, Kesner said. Every region, county and municipality has its own rules.
Many Oregonians are surprised to learn land-use planning happens on several levels, depending on the project and the region where building is proposed. Sometimes the entire approval process can take place through public comment and mechanization within planning departments without ever coming before a city council.
“People are often upset because they feel like they didn’t have a chance to contribute or they didn’t know ahead of time,” she said.
Land-use applications — the first step toward a potential new development — do have public comment periods, and Kesner encouraged Oregonians to speak up.
“We encourage people to comment. Your concerns will be heard; it will become part of the public record, and if there is an appeal, it’s an important piece of evidence.”
Rogue Advocates monitors land-use applications continually, on the county and city level, and it gets involved in projects it considers potentially harmful through outreach and education — and sometimes through litigation.
“There’s endless decisions to be tracking at all times. Oregon’s land-use system, in general, really depends on groups like Rogue Advocates doing that watchdog work because there are so many decisions that can just fly under the radar until years later and the community looks completely different,” she said.
For a downloadable version of the guide “Participating in Land Use Decisions,” see rogueadvocates.org/publicparticipation/.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at email@example.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.