Editorial: Developer should do soil tests

Editor’s note: The following editorial was based on inaccurate information about soil testing that Newland Real Estate Group had performed. In fact, Newland had completed testing all across the property and submitted it to Deschutes County.

Newland Real Estate Group has asked the Deschutes County Commission to change the zoning on about 171 acres at the intersection of Butler Market Road and Hamehook Road east of Bend.

In doing so, it asks that the commission ignore a recommendation from Hearings Officer Karen Green that the request be denied because the Newland group had failed to adequately test the soil on the eight lots that make up the property. The commission should require the tests.

It may well be that, as Newland’s lawyers have argued, the land in question is not suited for serious agriculture. And it also may well be that Green is asking the Newland group to meet a higher standard of proof than has been the standard in the past.

Even if that’s the case, Green’s request is not out of line.

Unlike the state-owned land at Stevens Road and 27th Street southeast of Bend, much of the Newland property has been in agriculture for years. It has been used for llamas, horses and cows; it contains pastureland and land on which both hay and grass seed have been grown.

The state Department of Land Conservation and Development and Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, in a letter to the county last year, argued that the land is suitable for agriculture and take issue with the soil classes described by the Newland group.

Meanwhile, it’s clear neighbors and others are concerned about the prospect of further subdividing the land, at least for now. It is not within the city’s current urban growth boundary nor contiguous to it, and they worry that it will hasten the urban sprawl in the area.

All that argues for requiring Newland to test the individual lots in the property, as Green asked.

While we’ve had quarrels with Oregon’s land-use laws, they do aim to keep urban sprawl to a minimum by setting the bar high when a property owner wants to turn farmland into a subdivision.

In this case, there’s clearly a difference of opinion about whether the property should or should not be considered suitable for agriculture. Both history and the state argue that it is. It’s up to the Newland group to prove them wrong, and the county should insist that it do so.