Columbia Riverkeeper v. Columbia County

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals
  • Area(s) of Law: Land Use
  • Date Filed: 08-27-2014
  • Case #: 2014-017/018
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Opinion by Bassham
  • Full Text Opinion

Lack of specificity in identifying proposed uses for the purposes of a Goal 2 reasons exception is not fatal to approval under OAR 660-004-0022(3), but specificity is vital to justify reasons based on these uses for purposes of OAR 660-004-0020.

Port of St. Helens (Port) sought a plan amendment, zone change, and Statewide Planning Goal 2 (Land Use Planning) reasons exception to accommodate future expansion of maritime, electrical generation, and transportation operations. The county board of commissioners approved 837 acres for exception with conditions. Seely, a farmer on adjacent land, and others, appealed to LUBA.

Seely first argued that the proposed “use” was insufficiently identified and that the reasons for justification under OAR 660-004-0022(3) were not met. LUBA upheld the county’s decision with regard to the specificity of the proposed use, the dependency on a unique resource, and the comparative economic advantage. However, they sustained Seely’s third sub-assignment of error, agreeing that without specificity of proposed uses, the county’s findings were inadequate to determine that those uses would cause “impacts that are hazardous or incompatible in densely populated areas.” Seely and Riverkeeper challenged the finding under OAR 660-004-0020(b) that “areas that do not require a new exception cannot reasonably accommodate the use.” The Board agreed with both challengers, determining that there was sufficient area to accommodate future development in the wetlands and partially vacant PGE leasehold area of the port, as well as alternative locations that were subject to flawed analysis. Seely and Riverkeeper argued that without specifying uses, findings that “proposed uses are compatible with other adjacent uses” under OAR 660-004-0020(2)(d) were inadequate. LUBA agreed, finding that the county’s reliance on future permit approvals to determine and correct compatibility would be an impermissible deferral of these determinations.

Riverkeeper challenged the county’s Goal 14 (Urbanization) findings that “the proposed amendments do not authorize urban uses on rural lands” or alternatively that an exemption from or exception to Goal 14 was applicable. LUBA found the county’s primary findings to be conclusory given the difficulty in defining what constitutes a “rural” vs. “urban” use, and agreed with Riverkeeper that the alternative findings provided no exemptions for industrial uses on rural lands nor that an exception is warranted based on the reasons used to take an exception from Goal 3. REMANDED.