Linn commissioners turn down rezone request

The Linn County Board of Commissioners denied, 2-1, a request by Roger and Cal Emmert to rezone a property on Old Holley Road from RR-5 to RR-2.5. The Emmerts proposed making seven lots of a 20.6-acre parcel instead of the four that would be allowed under the current zoning.

The Linn County Planning Commission had recommended approval of the request to the Board of Commissioners which held public hearings and rendered its decision on Feb. 7. The property is located south of Sweet Home. Its northern boundary borders Sweet Home urban growth boundary. Its eastern border borders the City of Sweet Home city limits. Its location in relation to Sweet Home’s urban growth boundary means the property is in an “urban influence area.”

Linn County’s Comprehensive Plan allows a minimum of five-acre parcels in urban development zones unless an exception to state Land Use Planning Goal 14, which governs urban development. To take an exception, based on criteria set by the state, a property must be likely to be developed into an urban use. Other types of exceptions are allowed also. Outside the urban influence area, 2.5-acre lots are still considered rural by the Comprehensive Plan. The Emmerts argued that their property would still be rural with 2.5 acre lots.

The Friends of Linn County opposed the application and argued that 2.5-acre lots were not urban, so the lot would not qualify for an exception; and additionally, the Comprehensive Plan prevents anything smaller than five acres.

“It’s very difficult to show you have met all the criteria,” Linn County Planner Robert Wheeldon said. Commissioner Lindsey voted in favor of the application.

“I read an excerpt from a state Supreme Court decision that I thought laid out the criteria for the decision,” Commissioner Lindsey said. Lindsey didn’t believe that an application could get approval at all under the criteria that Friends of Linn County and the commissioners were following. Those criteria were circular. The whole point of it is not to let excessive development happen around a city, Lindsey said.

“We have an antiquated statement in our Comprehensive Plan.” The property was originally in RR-1 zoning, Lindsey said.

The County wanted to it to be 2.5 later, but there was never a minimum actually set until last fall. The bottom line is that 2.5 acres is still considered rural, while anything under that could be construed as urban, Lindsey said.

The plan was good, with three or four access to a single road off of Old Holley Road. Long range it was the best way to lay out the property. The state had rules it said to follow, Lindsey said, but the Supreme Court disagreed. Through the whole process, Lindsey believed there were three conflicting rules.

“The bottom line was, for me, to approve that request would have been in violation of the County Comprehensive Plan,” Chairman Roger Nyquist, who voted against the application, said. The Comprehensive Plan calls for an exception to reach 2.5-acre lots.

“I tried to get there. I looked at the request, the organization on the other side. I looked at the Comprehensive Plan. I talked with staff about it. You get to a point where there’s no doubt in your mind what the rules say. “No matter what my personal views are, I’ve got to uphold the rules. If you could just leave out the County’s Comprehensive Plan, he presented a good request, and it made sense. It’s just another example of the land use planning system being broken and we need to fix. We need to take a look at our Comprehensive Plan. “Our Comprehensive Plan is fairly old, and there have been new state laws passed since then. Clearly there are areas where our Comprehensive Plan and state law conflict. Clearly the only people benefiting from our land use rules are land use attorneys.

“I give Commissioner Lindsey a lot of credit. He understands the process, the system. In this case, he reached clear to a Supreme Court decision to justify his waiving the Comprehensive Plan in this matter, and I was just not comfortable doing that.”