The Deschutes County Planning Commission will again be reviewing changes to how development is approved and regulated around flood plains after amendments adopted last year were challenged and withdrawn over environmental concerns.

On Thursday, planning commissioners were presented with new amendments to the county code that would essentially allow cluster developments — a housing configuration that groups residential properties together to allow the extra land on the site to be open space — on parcels of land that include flood plain zones.

Nothing would be built in the flood plain zones, which are areas of land usually around bodies of water that are more likely to flood. Instead, the amendments would allow a developer to count land in the flood zone as “open space,” which is land the county requires to remain undeveloped in exchange for allowing a higher-density housing development elsewhere on the parcel.

Including more land into this calculation means developers could potentially build more on a portion of property than if the flood plain wasn’t included.

The change is meant to simplify the process for applicants, which has been unclear for landowners who have multiple zones on their property.

But last year, Central Oregon LandWatch appealed a similar set of amendments to the state Land Use Board of Appeals over concerns that the rule changes didn’t do enough to address potentially fragmented wildlife habitat.

The county in response withdrew the amendments in an effort to more effectively demonstrate the need for the proposed rules.

Like in the previous version, developers would have to provide a plan, developed by a wildlife biologist, on how they would protect riparian areas. The plan would then be approved by a county staff member.

Planning commissioner Les Hudson, however, suggested that the county should ­consider having an on-staff biologist to review these plans rather than solely relying on the consultant hired by the developer.

“I don’t think it would be a surprise to anyone to know that wildlife biologists can be bought,” Hudson said.

The planning commission will hold a hearing 5:30 p.m. Aug. 8 to take public comment on the amendments. The commission will then make a recommendation to the Deschutes County Commission.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, bvisser@bendbulletin.com

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