Oregon’s Clackamas County wrongly permitted the retrofitting of barns in a farm zone for a home-based commercial events business, according to a land use ruling.
Earlier this year, landowner Mark Herkamp received a conditional use permit from the county to host weddings and other events on his 12.5-acre “exclusive farm use” property south of Oregon City.
The state’s Land Use Board of Appeals has now ruled that Herkamp went too far with plans to renovate two existing barns with a dance floor, banquet area and catering preparation kitchen, among other amenities.
A new restroom building, paved parking lot, patio, well system and septic tank would also be constructed on the property, LUBA said.
A county hearings officer concluded that “just because the barns may be used for hosting events does not mean they would not still be barns,” but the 1,000 Friends of Oregon nonprofit argued they’d turn into dance and banquet halls that aren’t allowed in farm zones.
LUBA has now agreed with the farmland preservation group that such extensive remodeling would radically change the characteristics of the structures to the point they’d no longer be permitted in a farmland zone.
Likewise, the new free-standing restroom building wouldn’t be accessory to an existing dwelling and isn’t a customary structure in an “exclusive farm use” zone, LUBA’s ruling said.
“Home occupations were never intended to be event uses,” said Andrew Mulkey, attorney for 1,000 Friends of Oregon. “It’s very disruptive. It’s disruptive to farmers and even non-farmers.”
Clackamas County would have allowed up to 300 people per event on the property for 5-7 days per week, depending on the season, which is beyond what Oregon lawmakers envisioned for home-based businesses, he said.
Apart from potential problems with traffic disrupting farm equipment and trespassers interfering with farm operations, such event venues drive up land values to the point agricultural uses aren’t as viable, Mulkey said.
“You begin to have the breakdown of the farming community and the farming economy when you have more of these impacts,” he said. “The property is being appraised for a lot more than just farming.”
Tyler Smith, the landowner’s attorney, said the nonprofit group relied on “false statements” regarding the scope of the renovations, which caused LUBA to misunderstand the proposal.
“They’re an exaggeration of what he actually asked for,” Smith said.
For example, the barn’s uneven dirt floor would be replaced with concrete and not a “dance floor,” horse stalls wouldn’t be removed, and only 44 events per year would be allowed on the property, he said.
The property is generally surrounded by “hobby farms” that don’t often rely on heavy machinery, he said. “There’s not a lot of tractors driving down the road, as a factual matter.”
Most events would be restricted to 120-180 people from Monday through Saturday, while the maximum number of 300 visitors on Sundays isn’t realistic in light of space and parking limitations, Smith said. “That’s not what’s going to happen.”
Though the county violated land use law, LUBA decided against prohibiting the conditional use permit and instead ordered the proposal to be reconsidered “because it may be possible for the county to approve the home occupation without the extensive renovations and construction elements.”
Even as critics of the home-based events business prevailed on the remodeling issue, several other objections to the conditional use permit were dismissed by LUBA.
The ruling rejected claims that the home-based business wouldn’t actually be operated by the landowner and that it would impermissibly employ more than five people due to the caterers, photographers and other contractors involved in hosting events.
LUBA also found the county properly relied “substantial evidence” from a traffic impact analysis submitted by the landowner in approving the application.
Smith, the landowner’s attorney, said he plans to continue working with the county to clarify that the building renovations will not radically change the barns contrary to law.
Andrew Mulkey, attorney for 1,000 Friends of Oregon, said LUBA’s ruling affirms the important principle that agricultural structures cannot be remodeled into buildings that wouldn’t otherwise be allowed in farm zones.
“It’s an important limitation and I hope it’s further clarified in future cases,” Mulkey said.