The Madras City Council voted on June 25 to bring 1,089 acres of land inside its urban growth boundary. The addition of land has been years in the making and shows again the need for changes in Oregon’s stringent land-use laws.

The property in question is part of the Madras Municipal Airport, which encompasses some 2,091 acres total and was originally the Madras Army Base. Construction began in 1940 on hangars to support training for aircrews flying the “Flying Fortress” bombers, Boeing B-17Fs. By 1945 the base had been declared surplus property, and by 1947, the Army turned it over to the city of Madras and Jefferson County.

The two governments have worked for years to develop the industrial park on land in the area. And in the last few years, the city has been working to bring the entire piece of property into the city limits. Until recently, state land use law allowed it to expand its urban growth boundary by less than 200 acres a year — far less than the 1,089 that it wanted to bring in.

Former state Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, made the change possible when, in 2017, he introduced legislation that directed the state Land Conservation and Development Commission to “establish … a pilot program to implement a master plan for economic development” on land adjacent to an airport in a carefully defined rural area. The measure, House Bill 2733, passed without difficulty, and in June 2019, the council’s vote approved the annexation. The city is now in full control of the industrial park.

It shouldn’t have taken years and a special law to get there, however. Oregon’s land use planning laws and regulations remain stumbling blocks, particularly in rural Eastern Oregon, where the rules that might make sense in Multnomah County do not necessarily apply. That rigidity has been a problem from the beginning, and efforts to improve the situation have had only spotty success. Huffman’s pilot was a success. The flexibility in the system should grow.

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