Deschutes County tries again to rezone farm land

May 29, 2018
Deschutes County tries again to rezone farm land

Deschutes County leaders have made it a priority to re-evaluate state and local laws that prohibit development on land designated for farming but that can’t realistically be used for agriculture. But as the ongoing saga of one property near Tumalo illustrates, developing rural land is far from easy.

Tony Aceti, who sells hay and creates board games, has spent close to 20 years and $350,000 trying to rezone a 20-acre property he owns so it can be used for industrial development.

The Deschutes County Commission approved that zone change in 2016, but it was overturned by the state’s land use appeals board and the Oregon Court of Appeals, which ruled that Deschutes County never explicitly gave itself the authority to rezone agricultural land.

Now, the county’s planning commission is expected to hold a public hearing June 14 on a change to the county’s comprehensive plan — an overarching document that controls land use and zoning — to allow the county to create new rural industrial or commercial properties. The change faces near-certain opposition from Central Oregon LandWatch, a Bend-based nonprofit that opposes most development in the rural county.

Aceti said rezoning the land — a parcel adjacent to U.S. Highway 97 and bisected by the Tumalo Road overpass — would allow him to finally put it to good use. He tried unsuccessfully to grow hay on it when he bought it in the early 1990s, and he was eventually able to prove to the state that the soil was too poor to farm.

“It’s not residential property,” Aceti said. “It’s not farm property. It’s surrounded by industrial and commercial uses.”

Land on the other side of Highway 97 is already zoned for rural industrial use, and land just north of Aceti’s property is zoned for rural commercial uses. It’s right by an area called Deschutes Junction, one of several sites in the rural county that were developed prior to Oregon adopting new land use laws designed to protect farmland.

Aceti’s lot has a large barn for hay storage now, and he says it works well for large truck traffic because he spent many years bringing hay to and from the site, before demand shrank for high volumes of hay. If the county approves his zoning change, he said he could picture it becoming a freight depot or a storage site.

He said LandWatch’s opposition makes little sense because there isn’t farmland or wildlife to protect on the land. Plenty of deer used to try to cross Highway 97 and got hit by cars while doing so, he said, but since the overpass was built, deer sightings have gone from a daily occurrence to something he never sees.

“There’s no resources to protect, and it would be suicidal for wildlife to continue to be in that area because of the high volumes of traffic and noise,” he said.

LandWatch says Deschutes County should keep commercial and industrial development to cities, recognized unincorporated areas and the seven sites that predated state land use laws. Those include the Deschutes River Woods store, Spring River and Bend Auto Wreckers.

“Those uses predated the state planning laws,” said Carol Macbeth, a LandWatch staff attorney. “The zone is a recognition of those existing uses.”

Although land near Aceti’s property is zoned for industrial and commercial uses and includes the Funny Farm and an RV storage site, LandWatch believes his proposed change would be incompatible with an existing Seventh-Day Adventist school to the west. The church expected that the land would remain zoned for farming, Macbeth said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160;

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