A group of stakeholders were convened over the last three years to address land use flexibility in rural Oregon counties. Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens took a large part in discussions to craft and advance the product of this work group.

Senate Bill 2 would allow 10 rural Eastern Oregon counties with low growth rates the ability to conduct an economic opportunity analysis (EOA) outside of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) and immediately utilize up to 50-acres for commercial and industrial purposes without going through the cumbersome and hurdle-filled exceptions process to Oregon’s land use system. Counties impacted by this legislation include: Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Lake, Malheur, Sherman, Union, Wallowa, and Wheeler counties.  

After sailing through the Senate, SB 2 was moved to the House Committee on Agriculture and Land Use and received a public hearing on April 9. This date is significant, because April 9 serves as the deadline for bills to be moved from policy committees in their chamber of origin. While 20 house bills were slated for frantic hearings and work sessions in the final hours before the deadline, SB 2 was placed at center stage as the first bill heard during the committee. Committee Chair Representative Brian Clem noted in the introduction to the bill, how unusual it was to hear a Senate bill on the first chamber deadline day, but noted the years of work put into the bill and the opportunity it brings to test some big questions in Oregon’s land use system. Rep. Clem stated, “even though today is a big day for the committee, this is a monumental effort.”

Testimony was kicked off by bill sponsors Senator President Peter Courtney and Senator Bentz. President Courtney spoke to the process and purpose for creating the legislation noting, “our land use planning system doesn’t work for very rural parts of Oregon.” He further explained SB 2 is a tool to benefit rural Eastern Oregon counties and help with economic development opportunities.

During the hearing, Commissioner Owens spoke to the need for diversified economic development opportunities in Harney County sharing remarkable statistics on the impact of agriculture in Harney County. Commissioner Owens noted with water issues heightening in Harney County, there is a strong need to augment natural resource and agriculture-based income. At this time the county is seeking options to accomplish this goal. “I’m not sure if it’s location, taxation, regulation, or land use, but I do know there’s one thing we can do to make a change today– by supporting SB 2 and having some flexibility in land use,” stated Commissioner Owens. He went on to speak on the impact of allowing economic opportunity analysis outside of the UGB. Currently, in Harney County, only 986 acres are in the UGB, significantly limiting options for development. The bill would bring the ability for Harney County to analyze the other six million acres outside of the UGB, creating a tremendous opportunity to support economic development and would bring the same opportunity for the other nine counties the bill applies to. Association of Oregon Counties Interim Executive Director Mike Eliason spoke in favor of the bill and representatives from other advocacy groups also testified. The bill received no opposition, which is exceedingly rare for a major land use bill.

Contributed by: Megan Chuinard | Public Affairs Associate