LUBA rejects Marion County attempt to allow large, nonfarm event businesses on farm and forest lands

This month, the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) rejected a Marion County effort to use the home-occupation statute as a backdoor to open farm and forest lands to businesses hosting large-scale, nonfarm events – events that would have likely taken place during peak planting and harvesting season in a county with more than $700 million per year in farm sales. 1000 Friends of Oregon and Friends of Marion County, which had appealed Marion County’s code amendments, applaud LUBA’s recent decision. 

State law preserves agricultural land for farm uses and allows some specified nonfarm uses, which are specifically described in statute. These laws uphold a central tenet of Oregon’s planning system established in 1973 by SB 100 – the policy that agricultural lands must be preserved and maintained for farm use. Any nonfarm uses allowed on farmland are the exception, not the rule. 

Among the uses allowed on farmland under existing law, a resident can operate a nonfarm business from their home or another building as part of “home occupation,” as long as the business meets certain conditions set out in statute. One of these conditions – crucial LUBA’s  decision in this case – limits such businesses to no more than five employees. However, Marion County would have allowed a home occupation to host events for up to 750 attendees as often as 18 times per year. The type of events would have been completely unrelated to agriculture, and included weddings, family reunions, class reunions, company picnics, memorials, and “similar gatherings.”

According to LUBA’s decision, Marion County did not demonstrate how an event with up to 750 attendees could feasibly be managed with only five employees present at one time. Going forward, the county must either demonstrate that an event with 750 guests can be managed by five people, or it must lower the maximum number of guests to an amount in line with the limitation. 

Although the case resulted in a victory, the ruling did not achieve all that 1000 Friends had hoped. LUBA rejected 1000 Friends’ arguments that the term “home occupation” cannot include a business designed to host events for hundreds of guests at a time. Such businesses far exceed the common understanding of what someone could feasibly operate out of their home or a building associated with a dwelling on farmland. 

“If you asked someone to describe what they thought a business described as a ‘home occupation’ would entail, they don’t think of someone transforming their house into a wedding or concert venue, and that is not what the legislature envisioned either,” says Andrew Mulkey, 1000 Friends’ staff attorney.

Unfortunately, LUBA determined that the language in the statute does not preclude someone from operating an event venue as a home occupation. However, such a venue must comply with the limits imposed on home occupations by statute. LUBA’s ruling ensures that counties must at least demonstrate that the types of uses or businesses they seek to allow pursuant to the home occupation statute are capable of complying with the requirements in state law. 

Notably, pathways for hosting events on farmland already exist as part of a section of state law known as the agritourism statute. The provisions in the agritourism statute are better designed  to facilitate events than the home occupation statute, and the agritourism statute also has the benefit of helping to ensure that events do not create long-term conflicts with farming operations or undermine the integrity of counties’ exclusive farm-use zones. 

Bottom line: Agricultural lands must foremost be used for farming. We’re glad to see that LUBA’s ruling reinforces this crucial element in Oregon’s land use system. 1000 Friends of Oregon will continue to fight for Oregon’s farmers, its farms, and farmland. Oregon must strike the right balance to ensure that farmland remains available to and affordable for Oregon’s farmers. 1000 Friends continues to push for common-sense reforms to the home occupation statute and to defend the protections found in the agritourism statute. Both are under attack this legislative session. 

Resources: Decision