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Goal One has one goal: Preserve the land.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

A new conservation group is fighting rural landowners who want to rezone their farm or forest land for housing, but some say the group is preventing people from reaping the value of their property.

Goal One was formed in July 2003 by activists LandWatch Lane County and Friends of Linn County, as well as supporters in Benton and Josephine counties. The name comes from the first of the state's 19 land use goals: citizen involvement.

It includes a staff of one, Executive Director Jim Just, a self-described "land use activist and law school dropout," who is working two dozen cases around Western Oregon, including a half-dozen or so in Lane County. The organization also partners with the conservation group 1000 Friends of Oregon.

Goal One, Just said, aims to reduce the human toll on the environment by stopping growth into undeveloped areas.

"To lessen our impact on the environment, we need to stop impinging on it," he said. "We need to preserve the land that remains because there is never going to be any more of it."

In Lane County, Just and Goal One have challenged applications to convert farm and forest land to "marginal land," which allows housing.

The Legislature created the designation in 1983 in recognition of the fact that not all farm and forest land is prime and capable of providing an acceptable income, said Jeff Towery, manager of the county's land management division.

Tests of the soils and productivity were designed to determine which land also might be used for housing or other structures such as mobile homes, schools, churches and utility facilities.

Applicants must prove that the land is not included under state goals that preserve farm and forest land. They must show that the soil is poor for farm or forest operations and that the potential for income is below acceptable levels.

In the past 20 years, Lane County has designated less than 1 percent of its 2.9 million acres as marginal land.

Just has challenged at least four county rezoning applications, for parcels ranging in size from 30 acres to 322 acres.

As a result, since late 2004, one rezoning application has been withdrawn; another that won county approval was overturned by the state Land Use Board of Appeals in February; a third, also approved by the county, will go before the state board in June; and a fourth, to be reviewed by the Lane County Planning Commission, was postponed by the applicant until June to respond to Just's arguments.

All four encroach on delicate, native ecosystems, and all four are illegal, Just said.

In the case where the state board overturned the county's approval, the board said the county overlooked multiple characteristics of the land that prohibited additional housing and proved it was part of a farming unit - not the least of which was the fact that it contained a barn and farmhouse.

Towery called that decision "precedent-setting," because the state board historically had based decisions on the results of soils and productivity tests.

But Just blamed the county for what he characterized as a hands-off approach to the rezoning applications.

"We think the land management division deliberately withholds scrutiny," he said. "They just kind of accept them and wave them through. Almost always, there are questionable interpretations of the law that won't withstand review."

Towery said staff is charged only with ensuring that an application is consistent with code - not with taking sides for or against a proposal. "It's not really our job to debunk an application," he said, and "it's not our job to fill in the blanks where it's lacking, either."

Attorney Steve Cornacchia, who represents two clients whom Just has challenged, said Goal One is focused on "not allowing people to live on their own land."

The county has used the tests for more than 20 years to establish whether one can make a living off the farm or forest potential of the land, Cornacchia said. The "marginal lands" zoning helps those people who can't, he added.

The lands `do have some value for agricultural (or forest) activity but not enough for anybody to make a living on it,' Cornacchia said. "The idea was, we'll allow people to live on these parcels and manage them, produce a moderate income on them, while working in town or another occupation to sustain quality of life."

LAND BATTLES

Goal One has fought applications to rezone farm and forest land for housing. Among them:

Grant: Applicant David Grant wanted to rezone a 30-acre parcel of farm land along the McKenzie Highway south of Walterville and four miles east of Springfield for rural housing. The commissioners approved the rezoning, siding with arguments that the land was not suitable for farming.

LandWatch Lane County appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which reversed the county's decision in February. The land use board said the county overlooked numerous traits that confirmed that the land - regardless of its soils and productivity - is part of a farming operation.

Ogle: Applicant Brad Ogle wanted to rezone 73 acres of agricultural land for housing southwest of Eugene.

Goal One said the land is protected under state goals and that Ogle failed to prove that the soils and potential for timber productivity are poor. The board issued a tentative denial of the proposal late in 2004, stating that the land is capable of producing acceptable levels of timber.

Ogle's attorney pulled the application before final action, citing an "unavoidable change in circumstance."

Dahlen: Applicant Karen Dahlen wants to rezone 322 acres just south of Eugene from agricultural use to "marginal land" for housing. The land is on the west side of Willamette Street south of 52nd Avenue.

Just argued in February that the land has state protection because it was once part of a forest operation that produced acceptable levels of timber. He also criticized research that downplayed the property's potential.

Dahlen's attorney asked the Lane County Planning Commission to postpone its decision so that Just's arguments can be addressed. The commission will review the rezoning proposal in June.

Carver: Applicant Roy Carver wants to rezone 42 acres of forest land south of Eugene as marginal land for housing. The property is just south of Blanton Road at the end of Ridgewood Drive.

The commissioners approved the request in January, supporting findings that showed the land didn't meet the standard for a valuable forest operation. Goal One appealed, criticizing the research that discounted the land's soils and productivity.

The state Land Use Board of Appeals is expected to rule in June.
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Title Annotation:Government; The conservation group is challenging rural owners who want to rezone their property as `marginal' to allow housing
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 6, 2005
Words:1099
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