Bulletin Staff Report

The Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday affirmed a ruling by the state’s land use board that Deschutes County needed to reconsider a decision to allow churches in a rural part of the county zoned to protect wildlife.

The court handed down a victory for Central Oregon LandWatch, an environmental watchdog group that wants to protect mule deer habitat around a nondenominational church and wedding venue near Sisters. John Shepherd, pastor of the Shepherdsfield Church, convinced the county to change its code to allow churches in the Wildlife Area Combining Zone, a part of the county where buildings — including churches, commercial dog kennels and schools — aren’t allowed.

Shepherd threatened to file a federal lawsuit under a 2000 law that protects churches from discrimination in land-use ordinances. The county changed its code to avoid such a lawsuit, but the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals ruled in May that the county did not do enough to analyze the economic, social, environmental and energy consequences of allowing churches.

The county appealed that decision, and the court of appeals affirmed it. In the meantime, county commissioners found another way to allow Shepherdsfield to host up to 27 weddings each year.