Deschutes County’s planning commission is hosting a series of public meetings around the county, and one of the goals is to reintroduce a department that has seen a lot of churn to the community it serves.

“We’ve had almost complete turnover in the planning department in the last couple of years,” said Nick Lelack, community development director for Deschutes County.

The first of the four meetings was held Thursday evening at Sisters High School. Subsequent meetings will be held at Redmond City Hall on Thursday, the La Pine Senior Center on April 6 and the Deschutes Services Building in Bend on April 13. Each of the meetings begins at 5:30 p.m.

Lelack said the idea came out of a department retreat last fall. With large-scale projects like developing regulations for recreational marijuana and working on Bend’s expanded urban growth boundary, Lelack said the department hasn’t had as much time to discuss changes to county code with outlying portions of Deschutes County.

“It’s been a couple years since our planning staff has really gone into rural communities,” Lelack said.

He added that the meetings will begin with a rundown of what the county planning department’s responsibilities are, which range from getting public input on land use planning to overseeing hearings. From there, the meeting will segue into proposed changes to Deschutes County’s flood plain zone.

The county has around 10,800 acres spread across 2,450 tax lots zoned as being part of the county’s flood plain, primarily located along the banks of the Deschutes River, the Little Deschutes River and Whychus Creek, according to Deschutes County Planner Matt Martin. He said the change would eliminate the split zoning that most properties in the flood plain face, making it possible to develop property without a conditional use permit.

“This is a project that we’ve had on our work plan for a while,” Martin said.

While the proposed change will not affect the boundaries of the flood plain zone, Martin added that some property within the zone is incredibly unlikely to ever see flooding. While the property owner will still have to go through a land use review, bringing a surveyor out to determine if a given area is truly within the flood plain, Martin said not having to apply for a conditional use permit saves money for the property owner and time for the county.

After Martin’s presentation, Lelack said community members will have a chance to ask questions about a variety of topics, including zoning issues related to recreational marijuana.

Ultimately, Lelack said the purpose of the meeting is to provide a broad overview of county planning for interested residents, while laying out some future changes.

“It’s just an opportunity for people to put names to faces,” he said.

—Reporter: 541-617-7818,