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Land-use changes for the better

On the whole, they make sense and simplify unneccessarily complex rules

At the request of the Jackson County commissioners, the county is about to unveil a set of proposed revisions to its land-use laws. That statement alone is enough to give indigestion to land-use law advocates, but they should calm themselves, for these changes look to be, on the whole, for the better.

This is a change three years in the making and at first review appears to be driven in large part by a desire to make local law less complicated.

It will certainly be less voluminous, although the written regulations will hardly be skimpy. The new regulations will take up about 500 pages ' a lot, yes, but better than the 700 pages previously required.

There are a number of changes that just make sense. For example:

If the owner of rural property classified as farmland can prove it is not farmable and that a change would not hurt neighboring farmers, he or she can seek a zone change without going through the exceptions process, which can take years. It only makes sense that if the land is not suitable for farming, you shouldn't need an exception to do something other than farm it.

If a landowner in a commercial zone changes an existing business to a new business that is less intensive, with fewer impacts to neighbors, there would be no need to go through a four- to six-month permit process. It only makes sense to expedite the process when a change would result in fewer adverse impacts.

Home businesses are currently allowed if that specific type of business is listed as allowed. The change would base approval of a home business on the impact a business has on infrastructure and neighbors instead of what type of business it is. Again, makes sense.

There are hundreds of changes proposed, far too many to address here, but our sense is this was a very good effort to simplify things without reducing necessary land-use protections.

Critics point out that the county rolled back some of its rules ' on the farmland exception requirement, for example. But the few that were softened were adjusted to meet state requirements that were less stringent than the county's. Oregon has strong state-mandated land-use laws and we don't see that matching the county's rules with those poses a serious threat to the county's ability to control growth.

Of course, with any change of this magnitude, there are bound to be some clinkers. One that stands out is the county's decision not to require rural developers to ensure water and septic availability before subdividing. After losing a lawsuit, the county has decided, in essence, to tell would-be property owners in those subdivisions, Buyer beware. The good news is, there aren't many rural subdivisions.

The even better news is that the new land development ordinances help make the jumble of rules more understandable to the average citizen. While it once took hours or even days to figure out if a property use was allowable, a new step-by-step chart now often provides an answer in minutes.

The development of this plan involved elected and appointed officials and representatives of a wide range of viewpoints, from no-growth to pro-growth. The next step is a public hearing in the courthouse auditorium at 9 a.m. July 17.

The end result may not exactly match the proposal, but it appears this plan goes a long way toward balancing the needs of property owners with the need to protect our county's livability.


The city of Medford spends &

36;700,000 on grants to nonprofit agencies every two years. An editorial in Thursday's paper incorrectly said that amount was spent annually.