Deschutes County is in the process of tweaking rules governing flood plains. Despite criticism of the process at a recent hearing on the changes, they will serve to bring clarity to what has been a murky situation.

The problem was identified when a hearings officer denied a request to build a 19-lot subdivision on a former mining site in the Lower Bridge area of Terrebonne in 2015. In September 2018 the county adopted an ordinance designed to correct the problem. That change was appealed to the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development, and the county repealed the ordinance in May 2019.

Now the changes have been broken into three packages, and the county planning commission held a public hearing on them on Aug. 8. One adopts language from DLCD’s model flood plain ordinance, a change officials say would provide better consistency between local land use decisions and state requirements.

A second proposal would add procedures for dealing with properties that have two zones, including a flood plain base zone. Development and subdivision requirements are part of base zoning, and the proposed change, again, aims to clarify what can and cannot be done on that land.

Finally, there’s a proposal to add rules for cluster and planned unit developments on properties that contain some flood plain zoning. The changes would put into the code past practices that allowed flood plain land to be included in calculating open space for proposed development.

Opponents worry that the changes will allow denser development in the area, and that’s a possibility. But denser development does not necessarily harm wildlife and, in fact, can mean clustered development that actually leaves more space open than might otherwise be the case.

In reality, the changes proposed both line up with state flood plain rules and make what was a confusing situation clearer. Worries about specific development plans shouldn’t be allowed to disguise that fact.

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