Understanding Land Use Planning in Oregon



by Fred Sperry, CF,ACF,REALTOR®
Professional Forester, Principal Broker- NW Forest Properties

In 1973, as one of the early adopters of land use planning, Oregon identified 19 statewide planning and development goals. These goals outline how the state balances development with the conservation and protection of its natural resources. While the state-wide Goals contain guidelines, the individual counties are responsible for rule making and implementation.

Land use planning in Oregon can be a double-edged sword. It is largely responsible for maintaining the beauty and productivity of Oregon’s resource lands. It also creates an impingement upon an individual’s right to use their land as they choose. A basic understanding of these rules is necessary for any real estate transaction in Oregon. For a complete list of the goals visit https://www.oregon.gov/lcd/OP/Pages/Goals.aspx .

Of particular interest to many of us advertising or shopping on LandHub.com are Goal 3 (Agricultural Lands) and Goal 4 (Forest Lands).

GOAL 3:  Agricultural Lands

PURPOSE: “To Preserve and maintain agricultural lands. Agricultural lands shall be preserved and maintained for farm use, consistent with existing and future needs for agricultural products, forest and open space and with the state’s agricultural land use policy expressed in ORS 215.243 and 215.700.”

Goal 3 requires counties to identify farmland, designate it as such on the comprehensive plan map, and to zone it exclusive farm use (EFU). EFU is broken down into multiple sub-zones defined primarily by the minimum acres that a parcel may be subdivided into. In the E40 zone, for example, a 79-acre parcel cannot be subdivided since one of the resulting parcels will be less than 40 acres, whereas an 80-acre parcel can be subdivided into two 40-acre parcels.

The rules for establishing non-farm dwellings in EFU zones are designed to minimize the number of residences on farm land. However, most counties have an income benchmark, that if met, will allow the land owner to obtain a “conditional use” permit to build a residence.

GOAL 4:  Forest Lands

PURPOSE: “To conserve forest lands by maintaining the forest land base and to protect the state’s forest economy by making possible economically efficient forest practices that assure the continuous growing and harvesting of forest tree species as the leading use on forest land consistent with sound management of soil, air, water, and fish and wildlife resources and to provide for recreational opportunities and agriculture.”

Most counties have provisions to conditionally allow a residence in forest zones.  A very few counties, including Lane (F1) and Linn County (FCM), have a forest zone that does not allow a residence to be built under any circumstances.

  • Template Dwellings. Where there has been a significant amount of rural development already, a residence may be allowed if certain stringent conditions can be met. If a “template” overlay of 160 acres, centered on the property, touches on 11 legal lots which include at least 3 residences existing as of a certain date – usually early 1990’s – the land owner can obtain a conditional use permit to build a home.
  • Large Tract Dwelling. If the parcel size is 160 acres or larger the county can grant a conditional use permit to build a residence.
  • Non-Contiguous Large Tract Dwelling. If a landowner possesses 200 or more acres in non-contiguous parcels that are in the same county or an adjacent county, the county can grant a conditional use permit to build a residence.  A deed restriction prohibiting building must be placed on the parcel(s) that will not be built on.

It is critically important to have a general understanding of these rules so we, as agents, can represent a property appropriately and to protect our Buyers from making the costly mistake of purchasing a property on which their intended use is not allowed.

As may be evident from the above description, the land use rules can be complex and confusing. Within the rules there are many references to other rules and statutes. There are land use consultants and land use attorneys that have an in-depth understanding of the rules and established relationships with local county planning departments. In many cases the cost of one of these experts is a prudent investment.

Having an understanding of how Oregon’s land use rules affect a property will lead to a wise investment and years of enjoyment and investment returns. Because of, or despite the land use rules, Oregon is a wonderful place to own forest and rural lands!

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