Legislation aimed at fixing a land use dispute has been approved by the Oregon Legislature.
The bill, HB 4078, unanimously passed the Senate on March 4 and the House on Feb. 28.
Gov. John Kitzhaber plans to sign the bill when it arrives at his desk, according to a spokesperson.
The bill’s approval may resolve disputes that have stalled land use planning in the Portland metropolitan region for several years.
“I can’t remember the last time as diverse a group as this supported anything on land use,” said Val Hoyle, D-Eugene, chair of the House Rules Committee.
The Oregon Court of Appeals recently overturned a land use plan for the Portland region that was approved in 2012 by the state’s Land Development and Conservation Commission.
The plan laid out “rural reserves,” within which farmland would be protected, and “urban reserves” that would be available for development.
The boundaries of the reserves were opposed by some nonprofits, property owners and cities.
Metro, a regional government for the Portland area, initially opposed legislative action to change the boundaries.
Once the court ruling made it clear the planning process would be greatly delayed, however, Metro signed onto an amended version of the bill.
The major boundary revisions are within Washington County:
• Two tracts north of Hillsboro that were previously designated as rural reserves were switched to urban reserves.
• Two tracts to the northwest of that city previously designated as urban reserves were turned into rural reserves, but Hillsboro’s urban growth boundary was expanded onto one of those tracts.
• A tract north of Cornelius was changed from an urban reserve to a rural reserve.
• Roughly half of an urban reserve north of Forest Grove was switched to a rural reserve, while the remaining part was included in that city’s urban growth boundary.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, and Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville.
Immediately before the House floor vote, Clem called the bill “a happier ending than many of us thought possible.”
The court’s rejection of the plan caused a “crisis of certainty” that was resolved by varied stakeholders “cajoling and shaking hands” to come up with the legislative fix, he said.
“This reserves effort is a very big deal,” said Clem.
Davis said the bill prevents another two to seven years of litigation over the urban and rural reserve boundaries.
Without spending any state money, the bill allows for economic development in Oregon while protecting agriculture, he said.
“We are preserving some of the highest quality farmland in the State of Oregon,” Davis said.
The legislative fix was necessary due to deep flaws in Oregon’s land use system, said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.
Municipalities expend millions of dollars and vast amounts of time trying to move urban growth boundary expansions through the administrative and judicial process, he said.
“It’s as fast as molasses in winter,” Knopp said.
He urged legislators to devise a more comprehensive solution to land use problems in Oregon so similar bills don’t need to be decided in future sessions.
“This is not the best place to have land use issues adjudicated,” Knopp said.
The bill won support from an array of stakeholders, including the Oregon Farm Bureau, the 1,000 Friends of Oregon conservation group and the Oregonians In Action property rights group.