A bill aimed at prohibiting land use appeals by “bad actors” is being opposed by Oregon farm and conservation groups for potentially excluding affected people from development decisions.

To challenge a local government’s land use decision under House Bill 2357, a person would have to live or have a business within 25 miles of its jurisdiction and appear in person if a hearing was available on the matter.

“What this bill does is have that appellant put some skin in the game,” said Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, HB2357’s chief sponsor.

Rep. David Brock Smith

Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford.

Brock Smith said “bad actors” object to decisions in land use cases to halt progress, which can discourage developers from pursuing future projects to avoid similar problems.

“They don’t negotiate, they litigate,” he said.

The state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development raised concerns that HB 2357 would limit its ability to seek review of land use decisions, but Rep. Brock Smith said the bill’s restrictions wouldn’t apply to the agency.

Representatives of the Oregon Farm Bureau, the 1,000 Friends of Oregon conservation group and the League of Women Voters testified against the proposal at a Feb. 12 legislative hearing, while other organizations submitted written opposition to the proposal.

Mary Kyle McCurdy, deputy director of 1,000 Friends of Oregon, said it’s a “very slippery slope” to label certain people as “bad actors” and deny them the ability to challenge decisions before the Land Use Board of Appeals.

The bill runs contrary to Oregon’s land use goal of encouraging citizen participation and may run afoul of people’s due process rights, McCurdy said.

Land use decisions may affect roads and waterways beyond 25 miles of a local government’s jurisdiction and many affected people don’t have time to travel to hearings, she said.

Only a small portion of land use decisions are appealed to LUBA and even fewer wind up before the Oregon Court of Appeals, McCurdy said. “I think the current system is working very well.”

Rep. Brock Smith also urged the House Committee on Agriculture and Land Use to approve another proposal he’s sponsoring, House Bill 2363.

In 2017, lawmakers allowed historic homes built before 1945 to be converted into “accessory dwelling units” instead of being demolished when new dwellings are built in rural residential zones.

Brock Smith’s proposal would change the definition of “historic” from 1945 to 1974, which he said is intended to align with the inception of Oregon’s land use system.

Opponents of HB 2363 argue the original limit was meant to narrow the exception’s scope while the new cut-off date would allow thousands of new dwellings in rural residential areas that rely on wells, septic systems and farm-to-market roads.

The House Committee on Agriculture also heard testimony on Feb. 12 about a proposal to invest $10 million in the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Fund, House Bill 2729.

The money would pay for easements to preserve farmland from development and to assist landowners with plans for succession and conservation.

“Fragmentation is the enemy of both habitat as well as efficient planning,” said Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie.

Though the testimony before the committee was unanimously supportive of HB 2729, the proposal would also need to pass muster with the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which makes funding decisions.

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

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