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Navigating Rural Land Development in Oregon: A Look at Statewide Planning Goal 3 and Related Rules

Jason Hammond June 16, 2023

In recent years, rural land development in Oregon has become an increasingly relevant topic for various stakeholders, from landowners and potential investors to environmentalists and government bodies. As a development-oriented attorney, I understand that the process can be overwhelming for all involved, especially given the complex, evolving legislation and stringent planning goals that guide rural land use in the state. In this blog post, I will focus on Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goal 3 (Agricultural Lands) and the related rules, offering insights into their implications for rural land development in Oregon.

Understanding Statewide Planning Goal 3

In Oregon, land use policy is guided by 19 Statewide Planning Goals. Goal 3, Agricultural Lands, is one of the most influential when it comes to rural land development. Its objective is to “preserve and maintain agricultural lands for farm use, consistent with existing and future needs for agricultural products, forest and open space.”

In practice, this means rural land that is deemed “agricultural land” is designated and preserved primarily for farm use. Non-farm uses or developments are restricted and carefully regulated to ensure the goal’s objectives are upheld. This goal can seem stringent, but it ensures that Oregon’s rich farmlands, a critical driver of the state’s economy, continue to thrive and produce for generations to come.

The Role of Local Comprehensive Plans

Every city and county in Oregon is required to adopt a comprehensive plan that is consistent with the Statewide Planning Goals. These comprehensive plans lay out policies, programs, and maps to guide land use and protect natural resources and public facilities.

With respect to Goal 3, local comprehensive plans need to include an inventory of agricultural lands, demonstrating consideration for current and future farming activities. The plans should map these lands and highlight any specific conditions or issues that may influence land use decisions.

Related Rules: Division 33 Rules

Within Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR), the Division 33 rules offer additional guidance on implementing Goal 3. These rules outline how counties should designate and protect agricultural lands, the criteria for determining whether a specific use or development is allowable, and procedures for exceptions.

Key elements of the Division 33 rules include:

  • The prioritization of commercial agricultural activities over other types of use.

  • The emphasis on soil quality and land productivity in assessing whether land should be categorized as agricultural.

  • The creation of buffer zones between agricultural and non-agricultural uses to prevent potential conflicts.

Implications for Rural Land Development

For developers and landowners, understanding Goal 3 and its related rules is crucial to navigating the landscape of rural land development in Oregon. While they impose restrictions, they also offer opportunities. For instance, rural land that is not designated as high-value farmland may present opportunities for alternative uses or development, subject to the necessary planning approvals.

Land development professionals should engage legal experts who are familiar with Oregon’s land use planning system and can provide informed guidance. Developers should be prepared to demonstrate how their proposals align with the goals of preserving agricultural lands, preventing land use conflicts, and promoting sustainable rural development.


Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goal 3, its place within the broader framework of Oregon’s land use planning system, and the related administrative rules make rural land development in the state a complex field. But armed with a thorough understanding of these regulations and a proactive approach, developers and landowners can find opportunities to align their development goals with the state’s commitment to preserving and enhancing its agricultural lands.

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.