Republished with permission from Cascade Business
The Oregon Court of Appeals reaffirmed on January 24, 2024, the critical importance of properly analyzing project impacts on surrounding farmland–not just the project site–when proposing non-farm uses on agricultural land. Applicants must demonstrate that their non-farm uses will not hinder their neighbors’ farm operations in a manner inconsistent with the state’s interest in promoting and protecting that farmland.
Central Oregon Landwatch v. Deschutes County concerned an application to rezone 710 acres of land from agricultural to rural residential. Those changes would allow 71 10-acre residential lots. The county hearings officer recommended approval of the application, which the County Board of Commissioners did. An unusually broad coalition of neighbors, land use watchdogs and state agencies appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), which remanded the county’s decision on various grounds. The applicant appealed LUBA’s decision and the court rejected the appeal and affirmed LUBA’s decision.
The court reviewed OAR 660-033-0020(1)(a)(C), which defines “agricultural land” under Goal 3 of Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goals to include “land that is necessary to permit farm practices to be undertaken on adjacent or nearby agricultural lands.” The applicant argued the question is whether the physical land itself is “necessary to permit farm practices to be undertaken on adjacent or nearby agricultural lands.” However, the court agreed with LUBA and the coalition of project opponents that the rule “asks not only whether the land itself is necessary to permit farm practices on adjacent or nearby lands but, also, whether the land’s resource designation and zoning, and the presumed lack of impacts or conflicts with farming on adjacent or nearby lands, are necessary to permit farm practices on adjacent or nearby lands.” (Emphasis added.)
The applicant described the nearby Exclusive Farm Use (EFU)-zoned properties, listed their current uses, and explained why none of them needed the subject property to remain zoned EFU in order to permit the continuation of farm practices. Thus, they argued, the rule was satisfied. In response, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Department of Land Conservation and Development contended that the Planning Goals rule required analysis of impacts on nearby farmland, and then described the project’s adverse impacts, including traffic and water supply, on nearby farms. The county disagreed and approved the project. LUBA agreed with the state agencies and noted that OAR 660-033-0020(1)(a)(C) required the county to consider traffic impacts.
The court said that a parcel must be designated as “agricultural land” if such designation and the accompanying zoning is “necessary to permit farm practices to be undertaken on adjacent or nearby agricultural lands” because farming is context specific, and that context inherently relies on nearby properties.
The case will now return to Deschutes County, which may attempt to bolster its previous decision with the new evidence and argument to support the application; alternatively, the project itself could be revised or simply dropped.
Contact any of the Jordan Ramis land use attorneys for questions about this case or about any similar land use issues you may have.
 Central Oregon Landwatch v. Deschutes County, 330 Or App 321 (2024)