In the community, Local government

Applicants seek to use new law to build on Malheur County farmland

VALE – A new land-use board will hold its first meeting on Thursday, Feb. 22, to review applications from local residents who want to subdivide their farm property.

Under a new law, inferior agriculture land that has not been farmed in the past three years can be rezoned for residential development. No more than 200 acres total can be changed in the county.

Eight applicants are seeking the county’s approval to change to a special zoning to allow homes to be built on what had been restricted to agriculture. They are the first to take advantage of the law change. Their applications will be reviewed and approved by the four-member group called the Border Region Review Board. Members include Ontario attorney Shawna Peterson, Bill Buhrig, Malheur Agricultural Experiment Station faculty research assistant, Malheur County Commissioner Ron Jacobs and Chad Gerulf, a member of the county Planning and Zoning Commission. Buhrig is the chair of the board.

Members of the board were appointed by the Malheur County Court in September.

At the Feb. 22 hearing, four applications from local residents will be reviewed. Those four applications include: Lonny and Tonya Fulk for property at 4252 S. Road C in Vale; John Zueger for property at 2132 Graham Blvd. in Vale; and Brian McKinney, for property at 3780 Arabian Drive and 1032 Morgan Avenue, both in Ontario.

A zoning decision by the board is final. There is no appeal process.

When the board approves a rezone under the new law, the authorization is valid for two years, said Tatiana Burgess, Malheur County planning director, with a one-time extension available.

The board can revoke its authorization under certain circumstances, such as not building within two years, said Burgess.

The new law is specific regarding what can be rezoned, said Burgess.

“It can’t be used to partition off an existing farm house from a farm,” said Burgess.

To qualify, a homeowner must be able to meet 15 requirements.

For example, the land in question must be within Malheur County, privately owned and zoned exclusive farm use or ranch use.

Other stipulations require that the land has not been classified for property tax purposes as open space, riparian habitat, wildlife habitat or governed by a conservation easement.

Burgess said the board will review four applications at its inaugural meeting.

Peterson – an Ontario attorney – previously held the position of chair of the border board. She has since become its executive director.

“When the county went about appointing those positions, the border board asked that I do it because I was so involved with the passage of the underlaying legislation,” said Peterson.

Peterson also serves as the executive director of the Malheur County Development Corp.

Buhrig said he was excited to be part of the board.

“I’m looking forward to how we can make a positive difference for the valley,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Malheur County land use bill gains momentum in Salem

Rural housing bill, once stalled in the face of resistance moves to Gov’s desk for signing

Malheur County names board to advance new rural housing opportunities

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