LEGAL WIN | 1000 Friends and Friends of Marion County defeat proposal to pave over farmland

Thanks to legal help from 1000 Friends, Friends of Marion County defeated an ill-advised proposal to pave over rich farmland in Marion County with a sprawling, low-density subdivision.

A landowner proposed a zone change to build a subdivision on 20 acres of high-value farmland. The Land Use Board of Appeals agreed with Friends of Marion County that the applicants argument was based on speculation, not on facts and the law. The applicant did not muster evidence to support the zone change and instead made several baseless claims. At one point, the applicants attorney claimed that the property could not be farmed because aerial spraying would conflict with nearby houses, implying that farms cannot operate without aerial application of pesticides and herbicides. Meanwhile, a small blueberry farm next to the property was operating just fine without any aerial spraying.

“Protecting Oregons land use planning system isnt always cut and dried, each attempt at undoing the systems protection of agricultural lands requires a nimble response from 1000 Friends. There is no shortage of creative attempts to rezone irreplaceable farmland – in this case, claiming that farmland isnt farmable.”—Friends of Marion County


Known to the participants as the “doughnut” versus “banana” controversy because of the competing descriptions of nearby residential development, the local hearings official diligently pointed out each of the flaws in the applicant’s reasoning and recommended denial. Among those easily refuted arguments was that the development near the subject property was shaped more like a banana, not, as the applicant argued, a doughnut.


Unfortunately, the Marion County Board of Commissioners did not follow the hearings officers recommendation to deny the application. Despite the lack of evidence, the Board of Commissioners bought the applicants arguments and concluded that the nearby homes – which had existed in harmony with the small farming operations of the area for more than 40 years – made farming the property “impracticable. If upheld, such specious rationale would have put any farmland next to residential development at risk of being rezoned and turned into a subdivision.

In the colorful terms of this case, the county would have sent the banana marching across the landscape, consuming valuable farmland, and leaving nothing but sprawl in its wake. But Oregons farmland protections are made of sturdier stuff. LUBA agreed, and remanded the countys decision.