Rogue Advocates Wins Appeal Preventing the Urbanization of Forest Land in Extreme Fire Risk Area

News Coverage

KDRV, Josephine County zoning change reversed by State Board, published on June 10, 2022

KTVL, Advocacy groups win land-use appeal against private developer in Merlin, published on June 15, 2022

Press Release

Grants Pass, OR, June 8, 2022—The Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) ruled in favor of Rogue Advocates and 1000 Friends of Oregon that the Josephine County Board of Commissioners (the County) improperly approved a rezone of nearly 90 acres of viable forest land for a rural residential subdivision. The County’s approval would have set a negative precedent making it easier to convert forest land for urban development outside of urban growth boundaries in direct contradiction to Oregon’s protective land use planning goals and creating development patterns that increase potential wildfires by expanding the wildland-urban interface.  

Forest zoning is intended to conserve and protect lands for forest uses, including for their benefits to soil, air, water, fish and wildlife resources, and to maintain Oregon’s valuable forest land base. Additionally, maintaining boundaries between urban and rural development reduces auto-dependent sprawl, minimizes wildfire hazards, and protects forest resources crucial to carbon sequestration. Under state and local law, a County can only redesignate a property from forest zoning to residential zoning if it is below a certain level of forest productivity and if the new zoning will not promote urban uses on rural lands. LUBA found that the County’s analysis improperly relied on evidence that underrepresented the property’s value as forest land and failed to demonstrate how plans for the property would retain rural levels of development if rezoned.  

LUBA emphasized that the County’s reliance on Planned Unit Developments (PUD) to satisfy certain legal criteria for the zone change was particularly problematic. PUDs are a way for developers to build without having to satisfy criteria such as minimum lot size and other development standards that usually apply. LUBA made clear that the County cannot rely on the possibility of a PUD, inherently designed as a way around certain legal criteria, to prove that the rezone would satisfy criteria preventing urban uses of rural lands. LUBA’s decision reinforced that a rezone is not permitted if the criteria cannot be met in the first instance. 

Rogue Advocates Vice President Steve Rouse commented that, “As is unfortunately usual practice, the Commissioners adopted findings written by the applicant without independently verifying that they satisfied the criteria designed to protect our vital forest lands. LUBA saw right through this and found many errors with the analysis that the County had relied on. This decision emphasizes the importance of the watchdog work Rogue Advocates does to ensure that Oregon’s strong land use planning guidelines are being upheld. We are amidst a climate crisis and our Commissioners demonstrate time and again that they are blindly approving findings with tremendous consequences on the sustainability and resilience of our communities to fire, drought, and other climate impacts.”  

The subject property, located four miles north of Grants Pass between South Schoolhouse Creek Road and Timber Lane, is currently undeveloped and contains 63 acres of woodlands and 24 acres of meadows and seasonal wetlands. If the applicant determines they can redesign the development to overcome the significant errors cited by LUBA the County may reconsider the application during a remand hearing. 

Rogue Advocates is dedicated to cultivating livable and sustainable communities in Jackson and Josephine counties. Rogue Advocates recognizes that endless growth threatens the preservation of farmland, forestland, open space, wildlife habitat and livability that we treasure in the Rogue Valley. For more information, visit, or contact Steve Rouse at 541-821-1374.