New land-use laws could revive economy

Here are the facts:By Bill Moshofsky
Originally appeared in Eugene Register Guard here

With Oregon’s economy one of the worst in the country, it’s time to explore all avenues that could get it headed in the right direction “” for struggling businesses, industries, families, schools and government at all levels.Economic activity is the underpinning for Oregon jobs, products, tax revenues and quality of life. Unfortunately, “economic” concerns now play second fiddle to most other concerns in Oregon’s land use regulatory system.Oregonians need to be aware that Oregon has the most restrictive land use system in the country. On private land in urban areas, development is tightly controlled, and private land in rural areas is locked into highly restrictive zones that allow very little development.

There are nearly 62 million acres of land in Oregon.

About 34 million acres are federal lands (55 percent), much of it in forests that can’t be harvested for environmental reasons.

About l million acres are state or county lands that are not developable.

About 25 million acres are zoned for farm or forest uses in which development of any kind is extremely limited. This zoning is a remnant of the 1970s, when Oregon’s economy was based primarily on natural resources. Not only has that changed, but millions of these acres never have been put to productive resource use. They are simply privately owned open space.

About 1 million acres are in small-tract rural residential zones.

Only about 1 million acres are in urban areas, where expansion of cities is tightly controlled by the state through a cumbersome, complex urban growth boundary system designed to limit urban sprawl. This is a laudable goal, but it shouldn’t take decades and millions of public dollars to add a few hundred acres to an urban growth boundary.

The Big Look Land Use Task Force established by the Legislature studied the land use system and recognized the need to provide more regulatory flexibility in rural areas, which suffer disproportionately higher unemployment rates.

Based on the Big Look work, the 2009 Legislature approved House Bill 2229. It gives counties a way to re-evaluate rural land use zones and rezone land that was miszoned or should be rezoned based on current needs and circumstances.

Oregonians in Action actively supported passage of House Bill 2229. It is working with property owners and counties to implement the process now available to counties.

OIA organizations have been working hard for sensible land use planning for the past 20 years in the Legislature, in the courts, at the ballot box and in the public arena “” to bring fairness, balance and protection for the rights of landowners. The reality is that land in Oregon is now so tightly controlled that implementing sensible planning to achieve economic goals is very difficult. The process is complex and cumbersome, and “preservation” too often trumps other concerns.

Creating jobs and economic opportunities should take precedence over other concerns.

Bill Moshofsky is vice president for government affairs for Oregonians in Action, a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting property rights and reforming Oregon’s land use system.