Legislation aims to balance land owners' rights, conservation
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Oregon lawmakers are working on a bill to provide counties guidance for regulating activities on farmland.
In testimony before the Senate Rules Committee, Richard Whitman, natural resources adviser for Gov. John Kitzhaber, said Senate Bill 960 "provides a clear way for counties to authorize things on farmland that are already happening."
Under the bill, farms annually conducting between one and six events can obtain permits from county planning departments. Events must be subordinate to the existing farm use, be subject to certain size and time restrictions, and meet other stipulations. A single event can span up to 72 hours.
"The purpose of this bill is to provide a clear pathway that is understandable for our average farmer who wants to have a commercial event on their property," Whitman said.
Farms conducting seven to 18 events a year are required to obtain a conditional use permit, which includes public hearings and provides opportunities for neighbors to submit public comment.
SB960 would let counties decide whether to adopt the rules.
The Senate passed the bill June 2 by a vote of 27-1. The bill now is in the House.
The bill came out of a farm activities task force convened last year by Associated Oregon Counties.
"What the task force found is that given existing state statute, there was a lack of clarity ... for counties in terms of permitting events and activities on farmland," said Art Schlack, a policy manager in land use for Associated Oregon Counties.
"The goal in mind was how do we balance conservation on farmland, and the need of farmers to use their land in beneficial, yet nontraditional ways," said Mary Stern, a Yamhill County commissioner who chaired the task force.
As of press deadline, it had yet to be scheduled for a floor vote.