The Deschutes County Commission appears likely to sign off on a proposal to rezone about 700 acres of land west of Bend for low-density housing, effectively eliminating the possibility that the land could someday be annexed into the city.

The land, split into two large properties between the city limits and Tumalo Creek, has long been intended for eventual annexation and development. It was even included in a city proposal, rejected in 2010 by a state land board, to add 8,000 acres to the city.

Since the land was first added to city reserves in the 1960s, planners have learned more about living in areas at risk of wildfires, Commissioner Tammy Baney said Monday during a commission discussion about the proposed zone. Proponents of the new zone have said it will protect the developed city from repeats of wildfires like the 1990 Awbrey Hall Fire.

“We know more about what it means to live in a wildlife-urban interface and how to protect communities,” she said.

Dedicating the land as a low-density transition between forestland to the west and the city to the east was a compromise backed by Central Oregon LandWatch, an environmental watchdog group that opposed Bend’s original plan and often opposes development in the rural county. A commission vote expected Wednesday will designate the land as a transect zone, limiting future development to 187 homes.

Commissioner Phil Henderson wanted to hear more from the Bend City Council about how it felt about giving up the possibility of denser development, but he said he accepted that the city was OK with the proposal.

“I guess we have changing values and a very strong state system where people are more concerned with wildlife and habitat than some of the other needs of the city,” Henderson said. “We’re living in an area where we have limited land, so we’re limiting this land to very few people.”

Two owners — Matt Day’s Rio Lobo Investments and the Coats family — own most of the land in the zone. Rio Lobo owns the 307-acre southern property, while most of the 410-acre northern area is held by corporations belonging to members of the Coats family. The Bend-La Pine school district owns about 32 acres in the northern property.

Rio Lobo and the Coats family also own other land that was included in Bend’s most recent urban growth boundary expansion, meaning it eventually will be annexed into the city. A development agreement they and two other developers signed with the city in October includes payment for the impact the 187 homes in the transect zone will have on city infrastructure.

Commissioners said they want to address concerns from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and the Bend Park & Recreation District about protecting a portion of the Deschutes River in the north property and ensuring trails are built as the park district planned, but they said those might be better addressed when applications for subdivisions come in.

Henderson said he wants to make sure the land has public trails and roads with public access.

“I am concerned that we’re creating just two very high-end neighborhoods,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in Bend that won’t live there, that can’t get access. So I’m wondering if in transect zones we shouldn’t have a requirement that there be public access.”

He also said he was concerned about other landowners trying to replicate the transect zone, creating pockets of low-density land around the city that constrain Bend’s growth. That’s a concern the city expressed too, said Zechariah Heck, the county planner assigned to the project.

“Any developer that has land could say, ‘Hey, I want to rezone my property to the north transect zone,’” he said. “They could certainly do that, but it would go through the same process.”

—  Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com

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