Business & economy

Malheur County names board to advance new rural housing opportunities

Malheur County will begin taking applications Jan. 1 allowing residents to put homes on farmland where they were once prohibited.

In July, Gov. Tina Kotek signed Senate Bill 70, changing the definition of “high-value farmland” to clear the way for more rural housing.

With a new county ordinance in place, those looking for a rezoning of farmland can now get a public hearing before a review board appointed by the Malheur County Court under Senate Bill 16, passed in 2021.

A technical glitch in the legislation nearly stopped the county from moving ahead. State Sen. Lynn Findley, the Vale Republican, proposed a fix that was expected to move quickly through the 2023 Legislature. Instead, it encountered strong opposition that nearly killed the legislation.

Shawna Peterson, executive director of the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board and key to the legislation’s passage, said the county’s planning office would play a significant role in helping interested property owners determine if their land is eligible.

Eric Evans, Malheur County planning director, said that beginning Dec. 1, his office will take appointments from interested landowners to determine if a parcel is eligible.

Under the new law, agriculture land considered for such housing must not have been farmed in the past three years and not be rated high-value farmland with premium soils.

Under the law, any request to rezone such farmland for housing rezoning must be considered by newly-appointed board that includes Peterson, farmer Bill Buhrig, Commissioner Ron Jacobs, and Chad Gerulf, representing the Malheur County Planning Commission. Buhrig will chair the board.

Evans said 200 acres are available for rezoning. He said that means there is a maximum of 100 lots with a two-acre minimum.

According to Evans, if the board has applications to review, the review board will meet in February. So far, Evans said about 12 people have indicated an interest in using the new zoning process.

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