SALEM — A bill that would constrain certain new dwellings under Oregon’s “forest template” law is encountering resistance from landowners who argue it unfairly infringes on their property rights.

The template law was created in 1993 to allow for some new construction in forest areas that have already been fragmented by housing.

A property can qualify for a new home under the law if a sufficient number of existing dwellings and parcels are found within a 160-acre “template” surrounding it, depending on the forestland’s productivity.

Concerns about some landowners adjusting property lines and exploiting other “loopholes” in the statute led to the proposal of House Bill 2225, which would prohibit new dwellings based on changes made before 2019.

While the legislation drew some objections earlier this year, it passed the House 37-23 in April. During a public hearing on May 7, several landowners urged the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources against approving HB 2225 or at least delaying its implementation.

“This law will devastate the values of everything I own,” said Casey Jones, a site developer who has bought several properties that qualify for template dwellings.

One of the main complaints was a provision in the bill that would only allow one template dwelling per property.

Becky Miles, a Lane County landowner, said her family wouldn’t have bought two forested parcels if they’d known such a restriction would come into effect.

“It makes it worthless to us,” she said. “There is no way we would have spent the time or money to purchase those if it was one more hindrance or crippling effect on that.”

Barbara Silver, also a Lane County landowner, said the bill punishes people who live farther from cities and objected to the notion they “manipulate” property lines to exploit the template law.

“Landowners were forced into doing that just to make their land work for them,” she said.

When the statute was enacted, lawmakers anticipated that more than one dwelling could be built on tracts created from an original template property, said Dale Riddle, vice president of legal affairs for the Seneca Sawmill Co.

“That’s not gaming the system. That was well-negotiated,” he said.

Forest properties that qualify for such template dwellings will eventually run out and the law doesn’t allow for the creation of new qualifying parcels, said Mike Evans, a land use consultant.

“There’s a finite number of parcels that allow for rural residential development,” he said.

Proponents of HB 2225 argued that the revisions were necessary to prevent unintended subdivisions in forested areas, which elevate the risk of wildfires.

“We’re gaming the system,” said Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton. “We’re aggregating and accumulating more forest dwellings in our productive forest zones and wildland-urban interface than is good policy.”

The template statute was supposed to discourage home-building in Oregon’s most productive forests but that’s not how the law has played out, said Meriel Darzen, an attorney with the Crag Law Center.

“You’re really into the thick of industrial-managed harvest areas where residential development is not really conflict-free,” she said.

The committee has scheduled a May 21 work session to vote on the bill, sparing the proposal from an upcoming legislative deadline.

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

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