Land Use at the Legislature
Because Oregon development planning is not static or dry, but impacts “public health, safety and welfare” on a daily, living breathing basis, 40 years ago then-Governor Tom McCall signed into law an innovative state land use planning system to promote orderly development, land conservation and the best interests of the people.
This system, McCall felt, would only be successful if a citizen watchdog group were in place to defend Oregon landscapes on an ongoing basis. To ensure this, he helped create 1000 Friends of Oregon, an organization which has influenced state policy ever since. The group works to protect farm and forest lands, to foster healthy, walkable communities and to reduce undisciplined sprawl.
1000 Friends has taken particular interest in several bills in Oregon’s 2013 legislative session. Their focus highlights current land use issues in our state.
Among 1000 Friend’s top priorities during this year are efforts to allow smart job creation inside existing urban growth boundaries. 1000 Friends theory is that with the right incentives, government can enable vacant industrial sites and undeveloped areas inside current urban growth boundaries to “work” for Oregon again, and it supports bills to make this happen.
Because the group believes that land zoned for family-wage industrial jobs is too easily converted to less valuable uses, it focuses on legislation against poor retail planning such as Keizer Station, where hugely valuable employment land was used for minimum-wage big-box jobs and a development that went bankrupt.
There is much, the group believes, to be done. Another issue this session is that Oregon is one of only two states that ban the use of an effective planning tool called ‘inclusionary housing.’ Communities nationwide use the tool to create high-quality affordable housing, and 1000 Friends supports legislative efforts that would give cities the option to use it here, too, to open doors to homes for more Oregonians.
The group also believes the state’s highly productive farmland is under threat by operations which are unrelated to farming, but are currently allowed to do business on farmable land. It supports closing a “private parks” loophole that allows enterprises like event centers and shooting ranges on farmland.
Similarly, 1000 Friends is focused on productive, cultivatable land threatened by gravel production such as Grand Island, a fertile Willamette Valley farm area which has been the subject of controversy since 2010 when a company which bought a farm there applied for a permit to mine gravel.
The final goal of 1000 Friends this session is to protect public access to planning decisions and processes. During the 2013 legislature they intend to challenge bills that limit Oregonians’ access to planning, including a bill that would severely limit what issues could be raised in citizens’ appeals of actions by local governments.