The Oregon Court of Appeals has overturned a land use decision that prohibited Linn County from rezoning a 108-acre property so it could be divided into smaller tracts.

Earlier this year, the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals determined the property near Crawfordsville, Ore., cannot be changed from a “farm forest” zone to a “non-resource” zone where 5-acre parcels are allowed.

Rezoning the property was “prohibited as a matter of law” because the county’s land use plan requires “farm forest” zoning for big game habitat, according to LUBA.

However, the Court of Appeals has now ruled that LUBA “erroneously failed to defer” to Linn County’s understanding of its own comprehensive plan as permitting the 108-acre property to be rezoned.

“Although the county’s interpretation of these provisions is by no means the only reasonable interpretation of them, or even necessarily the strongest one, it is one that plausibly accounts for their text and context,” the appellate court ruled.

Lynn Merrill, the property’s co-owner, said the ruling has implications beyond the 108-acre Linn County property, as it empowers local governments to make their own land use decisions.

“Bottom line, what the decision did is restore deference and respect to local jurisdictions to interpret their own code,” Merrill said, adding that LUBA has recently issued decisions that have tended to limit this local authority.

“It’s a shift of power back to local government. The closer to home the government is, the better, in my opinion,” he said.

The state government has designated about two-thirds of Linn County as wildlife habitat, so LUBA’s decision would effectively have prevented the county from rezoning that land, Merrill said.

The ruling’s impacts on the specific 108-acre parcel aren’t immediately clear, as LUBA must now determine whether to simply uphold the county’s rezoning decision or to order a more detailed explanation of its rationale, said Wendie Kellington, Merrill’s attorney.

“We’re elated. It’s extremely good news because it restores the governing body’s right to approve this application,” she said.

Capital Press was unable to reach 1,000 Friends of Oregon, a conservation group that opposed the rezone, for comment as of press time.

The landowners argued that commercial timber production on the property was unfeasible, while their development plan would allow for the creation of oak savannah habitat that’s important for wildlife.

However, 1,000 Friends of Oregon alleged the plan was insufficiently protective and that future owners wouldn’t be required to keep the oak savannah habitat.

The nonprofit was also concerned the subdivision is outside any urban growth boundary and would create unseen costs, such as the extension of fire protection and other services.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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