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March 09, 2006

Innovative Land-use ideas

Today I attended a Yamhill County public hearing on what is probably among the most interesting of Measure 37 claims.  This is a claim by a responsible land steward that has invested years of time and money to improve and restore his land, including working cooperatively with many government agencies and private organizations.  Their work to restore wetlands has even been chronicled in Heroic Tales of Wetland Restoration by the The Wetlands Conservancy.

Because of the proximity to other claims and their long-term reputation as land stewards, this hearing was very well-attended, with eloquent testimony from concerned neighbors that both respect the Gahr’s and worry about the effects of Measure 37.  It demonstrated, once again, the depths of community concern about the havoc being reeked by Measure 37 on the community and neighbors.

Two factors seem to have driven him to make his claim: first, current land-use laws are so restrictive that he feels he is extremely limited in his ability to both persue land stewardship and farming and also have an economic future and second, the proximity of several other Measure 37 claims means that he must face the invevitable encroachment and find a way to fight back.

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One of the things that concerns the Gahr’s, is the prior experience living in an area that did not have effective land-use laws and being overrun by an encroaching city.  With Measure 37, he now faces that prospect in Yamhill County as well.

He makes a case, one that would be familiar to many of us living in Yamhill County, that there must be more rural-compatible economic options for landowners.  As he says on his website,

“For us and the next generation to continue on, we feel that the income from the farm must be increased with compatible businesses related to the rural scene. There are many opportunities to do this without degrading the resource lands or natural habitat of our farm, but most are not permitted under present land use laws by restrictive farm zoning limitations.”

So why does that lead him to make a Measure 37 claim?

“I was motivated to file a M 37 claim because I wanted to develop a building site on a 3 acre parcel of land that is separated from the farm by the realignment of the county road.  The County Planning Department advised us that to divide it had to be eighty acres and meet minimum income requirements for three out five years.  He said we would have little hope of getting any variance through the permit process.  We have many ideas for our land, which are not permitted under present laws or zoning....  What we were asking for was some way to legally develop our nature reserve into a self sustaining self supporting project that was not reliant upon government subsidies or competing for non-profit grants. Anything we do needs to be compatible and beneficial to a nature reserve, which is in the range of elk.”

And he proposes some specific ideas for reforming the land-use laws, that are worth thinking about:

1. The State constitution would be amended to protect conservation easements lands from eminent domain for private development. And would also protect these lands from any form of taxation, except for fire districts, noxious weed control and required public maintenance related to public safety.

2. State land use laws would allow ALL rural landowner the option of a County approved planned development on a very small percentage of their property, example 5% on high quality soil, up to 15% on marginal. (This could be one or more residences or commercial uses) The remainder would be required to be placed in permanent conservation easements as resource or habitat lands.

3. State land use laws would permit commercial activities in a planned developments related to education, arts, tourism and convenience markets.

4. Counties could prohibit planned developments on property serviced by public gravel roads and a county road fee on all new residential or public access facilities in the county would be dedicated to pave county gravel roads.


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