Deschutes County’s 12-month slog to conform with a state-level land use decision will have to wait a few more days.
The Deschutes County Commission heard arguments for and against a code amendment that would streamline the process for landowners to prove that they have a legal lot of record, a change that could potentially save them time and money. However, opponents argued that the change occurred abruptly and could have unintended consequences for properties within the county.
“We don’t think the purpose of this has been very well explained,” said Carol Macbeth, staff attorney for Central Oregon Landwatch, a Bend nonprofit focused on land use issues in Central Oregon.
The county commission will vote on the amendment, which rewrites the county’s existing process for verifying units of land and adds new processes, on Monday. The written record will remain open until noon Friday.
Until last September, Deschutes County treated properties that had been issued building, septic or land use permits as “legal lots of record,” lots or parcels that meet specific requirements and Deschutes County has deemed suitable for development, according to Peter Gutowsky, Deschutes County’s planning manager.
The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ruled on Sept. 29, 2016, that the permits alone don’t constitute a legal lot designation. As a result, Deschutes County’s land use policy was upended, with residents forced to go through the time-consuming, expensive process of proving that their properties were legally established before they could sell or update them.
Since that time, the county has adjusted its fee structure to cut the cost for most lot of record verification requests from $925 to $250, and issued around $61,000 in refunds to residents who paid the full amount. A full text amendment, Gutowsky said, could be the last piece of the puzzle.
“We know this has been a very irritable, frustrating process,” Gutowsky said.
The proposed amendment expands the types of lots that are considered compliant, and provides new ways for property owners to prove their lot conforms, including proving their lot was created through federal conveyance. Additionally, if a property owner cannot prove his or her lot was established legally, he or she can still apply for building permits, as long as the permit does not change the use of a noncompliant structure.
Furthermore, the term “legal lot of record” will be removed from county code and replaced with “unit of land,” to better comply with state statutes.
Several attendees spoke in opposition of the proposed rule changes. Deschutes County resident William Kuhn said he supported the amendment, but thought the process to put it together was inappropriately hasty.
“I get upset, because emergency legislation should be really rare,” Kuhn said.
While Macbeth said she supported a push for more clarity and specificity in the county’s code, she added that the new proposal could set a dangerous precedent by permitting developments that don’t comply with the county’s comprehensive plan.
“It’s going to create new development opportunities for people who, right now, do not have the ability to develop a parcel,” she said.
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