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Navigating Oregon Land Use Law: A Development Attorney’s Primer

Frank Hammond June 23, 2023

Oregon’s unique landscape, from the rugged coastline to the stunning mountains, makes it a desirable place for residents and businesses alike. However, the development and utilization of land in the state are subject to a comprehensive set of regulations known as Oregon land use law. As a development attorney with extensive experience in this field, I understand the complexities involved. In this article, I aim to provide you with a primer on Oregon land use law, shedding light on its key aspects and guiding you through the intricacies of the development process.

Understanding the Framework

Oregon’s land use law is primarily governed by the statewide land use planning program, established under Senate Bill 100 in 1973. This program aims to balance the conservation of natural resources with the promotion of economic development and sustainable communities. The framework consists of several layers, including statewide planning goals, comprehensive plans developed by local governments, and implementing regulations.

Statewide Planning Goals

To ensure consistency and uniformity, Oregon land use law establishes 19 statewide planning goals. These goals cover various aspects, such as land conservation, urbanization, transportation, natural hazards, and historic preservation. They provide a broad policy framework within which local governments create their comprehensive plans and zoning regulations.

Comprehensive Plans

Comprehensive plans serve as the blueprint for land use decisions at the local level. They outline the long-term vision for development, land use patterns, and goals specific to each jurisdiction. Comprehensive plans typically address issues like housing, transportation, infrastructure, economic development, and environmental protection. They are periodically updated to reflect changing community needs and state requirements.

Zoning Regulations

Zoning regulations implement the policies and goals set forth in comprehensive plans. They divide land into different zones, each with specific permitted uses, density requirements, setback regulations, and other development standards. Zoning determines whether a property can be used for residential, commercial, industrial, or mixed-use purposes, as well as any restrictions on building height or lot coverage.

Land Use Permits and Entitlements

Developers and property owners must navigate the permit and entitlement process to obtain necessary approvals for land development projects. This often involves submitting applications, attending public hearings, and complying with specific criteria, such as environmental impact assessments, traffic studies, and public infrastructure requirements. Common permits include conditional use permits, variances, and subdivision approvals.

Public Participation and Appeals

Oregon land use law emphasizes public involvement in the decision-making process. Local governments are required to provide opportunities for public comment and hold hearings before approving or denying development applications. Additionally, aggrieved parties have the right to appeal land use decisions to local land use boards or, in some cases, the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). Judicial review is available if further appeals are necessary.

Environmental Considerations

Oregon’s commitment to environmental protection is evident in its land use law. Development projects must consider factors such as water quality, wildlife habitat preservation, air pollution, and stormwater management. Environmental regulations are designed to minimize the ecological impact of development activities and promote sustainability.

Oregon’s land use law presents a complex regulatory landscape for developers, property owners, and local governments. Navigating this terrain requires a comprehensive understanding of the statewide planning goals, comprehensive plans, zoning regulations, permit processes, public participation, and environmental considerations. As a development attorney, I hope this primer has shed light on the key aspects of Oregon land use law and serves as a starting point for those looking to undertake land development projects in this beautiful state. Remember, consulting with legal professionals well-versed in Oregon land use law is crucial to ensure compliance and successful outcomes.

With more than three decades of experience, we have a deep understanding of how regulations can intersect with land use issues and development projects. For a consultation with our Portland office, call or email us directly.