Farmland houses could be replaced regardless of when they were demolished under legislation approved by the Oregon House that’s intended to resolve an ongoing legal controversy.

Landowners would be allowed to rebuild houses even if they hadn’t been subject to property taxes for five years under House Bill 3024, which passed 52-6 on April 18.

Earlier legislation from 2013 that dealt with replacement dwellings in “exclusive farm use” zones contained unclear language that’s since led to inconsistent legal interpretations.

The uncertainty is exemplified by a family that received permission from Lane County to rebuild three dwellings that had been removed nearly two decades earlier.

Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals determined the homes weren’t eligible for replacement because they hadn’t been assessed for property taxes in five years, but that decision was overturned by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Oral arguments in the case were held in November 2018 before the Oregon Supreme Court, which is still deliberating whether the five-year property tax provision applies to demolished homes.

“When the legislature writes a law that causes confusion for local governments trying to enforce the law and the courts that then try to interpret it, legislation should try to clarify the law and eliminate the confusion,” said Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond.

On April 23, the House also approved a bill 37-23 that would tighten the provisions of a “template” law that allows for homes to be built on certain parcels of forestland.

The forest template statute was intended to allow dwellings in forested areas that had already experienced some development, but critics claimed some landowners were exploiting “loopholes” in the law.

Under House Bill 2225, parcels can’t qualify for new dwellings due to property line adjustments made after Jan. 1, 2019, which is meant to preserve the rights of landowners who had already made such changes.

Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, objected to the “rollout” of the law, which will become effective across Oregon counties in three phases in 2019, 2021 and 2023, as well as the premise that “we know better than you and we’re deciding you should not build this house.”

“Not every house in a rural area is atrocious,” he said.

Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, countered that “terrible” provisions in the original version of HB 2225 have been removed, so that only future property line adjustments will be disqualified from new “template” dwellings.

While that legislation would limit some home-building in forestland, lawmakers approved another bill that would allow for additional dwellings for family members on forested parcels.

House Bill 2469, which passed the House 56-2 on April 17, would permit second homes within 200 feet of the original dwellings, as long as the relative assists in forest management under a written plan, among other provisions.

The house also eased the farm income test for new homes on property devoted to growing cranberries.

House Bill 2573 effectively lowers the amount of revenue that must be earned on a cranberry farm — from $80,000 to $40,000 per year — to qualify for the construction of a dwelling on the property.

The bill, which expires in 2022, is meant to alleviate the economic problems experienced by cranberry growers who have trouble generating $80,000 a year due to low prices for the crop.

“In the current market, that threshold is very difficult for farmers to meet,” said Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, the bill’s chief sponsor.

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

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