Lower Bridge acreage up for zone change
Last updated 4/26/2022 at Noon
A large parcel of exclusive farm use (EFU) land may be rezoned to allow for rural residential development, which would allow one dwelling per 10 acres.
The land, located in the Lower Bridge valley west of Terrebonne between Lower Bridge Way and Highway 126, is 710 acres made up of nine tax parcels, which means the possibility of 70 homes being built on acreage surrounded by farms and ranches, federal land, and a small rural subdivision.
The request for the rezone is being made by applicant 710 Properties LLC and landowner Eden Central Properties LLC, registered to Robert Turner and Charles Thomas III, both listed as having Sisters addresses. The applicant requests approval of a Deschutes County Comprehensive Plan amendment to change the designation of the subject property from agricultural (AG) to rural residential exception area (RREA). The applicant also requests a corresponding zone change to rezone the subject property from exclusive farm use Terrebonne subzone (EFU-TE) to rural residential (RR-10).
A public hearing was conducted by a Deschutes County hearings officer on April 19. A written post-hearing open record period was established as follows: new evidence and testimony open record period which closed on Wednesday, April 26; rebuttal open record period which ends Tuesday, May 3 at 4 p.m.; and final argument (applicant only) ending Tuesday, May 10 at 4 p.m.
As of April 19, 2022, Deschutes County had received 172 public comments and submittals. A majority of those who testified at the April 19 public hearing spoke against the application. A 12-page letter was submitted by representatives of three state agencies: Jon Jinings, community services specialist with Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD); James W. Johnson, land use and water planning coordinator, Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA); and Corey Heath, Deschutes Watershed district manager, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).
They presented materials related to Oregon Administrative Rules and Oregon Revised Statutes dealing with the definition of agricultural lands, soil classes and fertility, farm use, suitability for grazing, climatic conditions, existing and future availability of water for irrigation purposes, existing land use patterns, technology and energy inputs required, and accepted farming practices.
They concluded, “Based on the current application materials, we disagree with findings that assert the property is not agricultural land. We find the subject property is characteristic in soils, terrain, hydrology, and size to many central Oregon properties that have been historically or are currently used for livestock and grazing operations.”
The applicants claim in their application that the land is not suitable for farming.
The three agency representatives, as well as the Oregon Land and Water Alliance (OLAWA), also mentioned wildlife habitat concerns as the acreage is within ODFW designated mule deer and elk winter range, which is essential habitat providing thermal cover, security from predation and harassment, forage quantity, adequate nutritional quality, and escape from disturbance for deer and elk from December through April.
According to OLAWA, “Our mule deer population in Deschutes County is already 50 percent less than the historical normal herd levels. Most of these losses are attributed by biologists to the shrinking winter range available for deer during the pinch period they must suffer through each winter as food supplies shrink with the winter frosts.”
The question of water availability and ongoing impacts to surface water and groundwater in the Deschutes Basin is one of the major concerns for many locals. The ODFW raised the question of potential impairment to fish and wildlife habitat from a new water use, including a reduction of surface water quantity from groundwater pumping and an increase in water temperature due to flow reduction.
“In the face of changing climate and current and potential human impacts both regionally and in the vicinity of the proposed change in designation, we recommend any required mitigation through Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) and Deschutes County processes be carefully analyzed to ensure the intended ecological functions of mitigation are achievable and able to be maintained in perpetuity,” their letter stated.
With wells going dry, most reservoirs filling to 50 percent or less of normal capacity, low snow-pack levels, increasingly warm summers, and locals voluntarily cutting back on water usage, OLAWA pointed out that if the developers were able to build 70 new homes, more publicly owned water stored in our shared aquifer would go to service those homes.
Adding dwellings in the proposed area could significantly alter the fire control strategies and increase the cost of wildfire protection. The population of the area would increase markedly, and traffic levels would impact the narrow country roads in the area.
To support a zone change application, it is incumbent upon the applicant to demonstrate that the public interest is best served by rezoning the property from exclusive farm use to rural residential, better serving the health, safety,
and welfare of the public (DCC 18.136.020).
So far, the application has drawn widespread criticism from neighboring farmers and ranchers, conservation groups like Central Oregon LandWatch and OLAWA, and representatives of state agencies, as well as private citizens.