Applicants wanted the Polk County Commissioners to rezone over 200 acres of farmland from Exclusive Farm Use to zoning that would allow small-acre residential developments.
Oregon’s land use planning program calls for the "preservation of a maximum amount of the limited supply of agricultural land." Without protections, Oregon’s farmland – and our vibrant agricultural economy – is at risk of conversion to non-farm uses and encroachment of urban development.
Individuals, groups, cities, counties and even the state can attempt to rezone land through various legal avenues — turning Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) land into something that can be used for a different purpose like commercial or residential development. Thankfully, organizations like 1000 Friends and our affiliate group Friends of Polk County can appeal applications and decisions from agencies or individuals to defend farm, ranch and forestland.
The case revolved around an applicant’s second attempt to rezone a 228-acre property in Polk County that is currently zoned EFU. The property in question is outside an urban growth boundary and therefore not currently intended for residential or commercial development. The applicants sought to redesignate the EFU-zoned land into another zone (AF-10) which would remove some EFU protections and allow for small-acre residential developments.
“Oregon protects agricultural lands (Goal 3) and forest lands (Goal 4) through the statewide comprehensive planning program... Farm and forest lands are further protected through limitations on the uses allowed on lands designated for farm or forest use...” - Oregon Legislature
In a 2-1 vote the Polk County Commissioners sided with us — 1000 Friends of Oregon and Friends of Polk County — and the county hearings official. The decision will protect agricultural land from fragmentation into small-acre residential development.
Our victory underscores the importance of local participation in land use planning, and the persistence required of farmers, ranchers, foresters, and their allies to ensure the long-term success of agriculture. The final, written decision can be appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals, but our legal team will continue to monitor the situation.
“From 2001 to 2016, 11 million acres of agricultural land [in the U.S.] were paved over, fragmented, or converted to uses that jeopardize agriculture, curtailing sustainable food production, economic opportunities, and the environmental benefits afforded by well-managed farmland and ranchland.”
Unchecked sprawl is one of the common threats Oregon’s farmland faces. Thankfully, Oregon’s land use planning program offers our irreplaceable farmland some protections in the form of Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) zoning. After all, agriculture is the second-largest economic driver in Oregon and the industry’s continued success depends on the state’s land use planning program.
Oregon’s agricultural land use protections consistently score as the nation’s strongest due to our robust land use planning system, but the farmland can’t protect itself. Without organizations like 1000 Friends of Oregon and Friends of Polk County, there would be sustained losses of farm, ranch and forestlands every year.