Additional dwellings would be allowed on some Oregon forestlands under a bill aimed at improving the intergenerational transfer of such properties.
However, concerns have been raised that House Bill 2469 doesn’t include sufficient precautions against such second homes being converted for purposes other than housing the relatives of landowners.
Second dwellings for family members have long been permitted on farmland but it’s possible forestland owners didn’t make a strong enough argument why they’re necessary for managing timber, said Bonnie Schumaker, a Washington County forestland owner.
“Not having an option of living on the land is an obstacle,” Schumaker said during a March 19 legislative hearing.
The owners of Oregon’s family forests are aging, with about half of them older than 65, which means they must plan to pass their “little piece of heaven” onto the next generation, she said.
Under HB 2469, the second dwelling would need to be built within 200 feet of an existing home and land divisions wouldn’t be permitted, she said. Only parcels larger than 80 acres would qualify and the new houses would have to meet fire-safe regulations.
Barrett Brown, another Washington County forestland owner, said the process of his son taking over physical management of his property will be gradual, as will the transition in decision-making.
“Teaching and transferring that wisdom and experience will also take many, many years,” he said.
The bill may be crucial in making such a “generational handoff” possible, he said.
Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, said he has reservations about HB 2469 despite supporting the idea of multiple generations living on the same family forestland.
“If we can keep it that way, that would be wonderful,” Helm said.
However, pressures may build over time on forestland owners to switch the second dwellings to rentals or to sell them, which the current bill may not guard against, he said.
That sentiment was echoed by 1,000 Friends of Oregon, which is concerned that no provisions would require family members to remain “engaged in forest uses,” according to written testimony from Meriel Darzen, the conservation group’s rural lands attorney.
There’s also a lack of data showing that such second dwellings are needed to assist with succession planning, she said.
Requiring a “timber management plan” may help ensure that forestland properties stay dedicated to timber production, Darzen said.
The Department of Land Conservation and Development may advise on improvements to HB 2469 that would be similar to the standards for second farm dwellings, said Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, who chairs the House Committee on Agriculture and Land Use.
Another bill being considered by the committee would “short-circuit” litigation that’s intended to resolve uncertainties about replacement dwellings on farmland.
The dispute stems from the proposed rebuilding of three previously demolished houses on 100 acres of farmland in Lane County.
The county government approved their reconstruction, which was reversed by Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals because the structures hadn’t been subject to property taxes within five years.
Last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals overruled LUBA and found there was no tax-related five-year deadline for rebuilding demolished homes, but the question is currently being deliberated by the Oregon Supreme Court.
House Bill 3024 would make it clear that demolished structures can be replaced even if they weren’t assessed for property taxes within five years.
Representatives of the Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Property Owners Association both testified in favor of the bill.
“It seems like something we can and should clarify legislatively,” said Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of public policy for the Farm Bureau.