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home : current news : current news June 24, 2016

5/20/2014 1:28:00 PM
Sisters weighs in on EFU lands
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Folks in Sisters Country are leery of any change to Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) zoning that might erode the rural character of the region.

At least that was the majority viewpoint last Thursday during a Deschutes County Planning Department outreach meeting at Sisters High School. The meeting was one of several being held across the county. Deschutes County is interested in understanding public, stakeholder, and landowner opinions about the "opportunities and challenges" with EFU zoning, and in determining if changes are needed.

During opinion-gathering exercises, several local residents expressed a desire to preserve farmland.

Bruce Bowen noted that he lives on 37 acres of non-irrigated farmland where he "grows rocks." He asked planners how many actual applications they have actually received to convert EFU land to some other designation. When planners answered that the number was four or five (though others have expressed interest) Bowen said, "It seems to me you have a solution and you're looking for a problem." EFU zoning as it is, "is protecting me from rural residential subdivisions. I like living with space."

That was a common sentiment. Chuck Humphreys said current zoning rules are working, because they allow him to raise his children in an open, rural environment. "Livability," he argued, "is a common good."

Of course, it's folks who try to make at least part of their living farming that bear the financial burden of providing that livability and rural ambience.

One meeting participant argued that the current system is not working, that it is the result of a "poorly thought-out 1970s plan to de-California Oregon." In his view the unintended consequence is that rural Oregonians can't afford to live here, while California retirees can.

One way financially strapped farmers have been trying to access new revenue streams is through agritourism and events (such as weddings and concerts) on their land. In recent years, that has raised the specter of conflict and incompatibility with neighbors.

Cris Converse, of Pine Meadow Ranch, said she'd like to see more flexibility and discretion in county rules governing events on EFU lands. Some properties can hold an event with virtually zero impact on neighbors with noise or traffic, she noted, yet they are restricted by the same rules as properties where neighbors are inevitably impacted.

Pamela Burry expressed concern that any change to EFU designations would in effect obviate the purpose of urban growth boundaries, creating "hopscotch" development across the county.

Paul Lipscomb noted that land taken away from farming is gone for good and that with the "California climate moving north" due to climate change, some crops may become viable in the future that are not now.

"If we plant houses on that land today," he said, "we won't have that land for our children's generation." County planning staff will continue to gather such public commentary and report back to the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners.

"We have no proposals at this time," said deputy planner Matt Martin, "and no preconceived notions of where this is going."

Sisters resident Dennis McGregor reflected on the unending conundrum of more and more people wanting to live in a beautiful, rural landscape.

"Farming has always been difficult here," he said, "before it was a fashionable place to live. People want to cash in on the ambience of the place, killing the thing that brought them here."

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