Code revision on gathering places moves forward


benton_county_logoCORVALLIS, Ore. – The Benton County Board of Commissioners moved forward with revisions to the Benton County Development Code that would put the same requirements on community gathering places in the Urban Residential Zone as those that are required of other uses that can generate impacts to neighboring properties and infrastructure.

The 2-1 vote for a first reading was taken at the Board’s regular meeting on Dec. 16. The second reading will be conducted at noon on Dec. 30. Code revisions can take effect 30 days after the second reading. Commissioners Annabelle Jaramillo and Linda Modrell voted in favor of the revisions and Commissioner Jay Dixon voted against them.

Commissioner Jaramillo made the motion to approve the amendment. She noted a pattern of population growth in Benton County, Philomath and Corvallis as well as existing state land use legislation as reasons to support the code amendments.

“Oregon land use law requires the state, counties and cities to develop plans that focus on urban and rural development; preservation of farm lands, wise use of water and other resources that contribute to the quality of life we all enjoy in our state,” she said. “We as elected officials need to weigh impacts now and in the future. With a few refinements, Oregon’s land use laws have stood the test of 41 years. I have been and will continue to be an advocate for this effort.”

Commissioner Dixon cast the vote in dissent, citing fairness to groups that purchased property within the Urban Residential Zone with the intent of building, but haven’t been able to construct anything yet.

“The complaint I hear most frequently about other jurisdictions, but not Benton County, is the lack of certainty when a property owner wants to develop their property,” Dixon said. “I am proud of our Community Development Department and of our history of not changing the rules mid-stream. Here, we are proposing to change the rules mid-stream so that those who purchased property, understanding that they had an outright use, will in the future have to meet a set of standards that are presently unknown.”

The revision – which will affect organizations such as lodges, community halls, grange halls and religious gathering places – requires a conditional use permit process before such an organization can establish a new facility or undertake major expansions.

Previously, the code allowed such facilities without land use review. Complaints from neighbors regarding loud music, increased traffic, parking issues on roads and increased water use by certain organizations helped to prompt county officials to look at these changes.

Examples of conditional uses that had required a conditional use process, and which continue to bear those requirements, include duplexes, daycare facilities for 13 or more children and public and private schools. All of these uses, as well as those of community gathering places, can have impacts on surrounding neighbors.

“We need to keep in mind that there are a number of facilities that are customarily thought of as contributing to the overall ‘community good and help people’ but are conditional uses in Urban Residential – a day care center with 13 children; a school; or a residential facility for, let’s say, 10 folks who are developmentally disabled,” Commissioner Modrell said. “Each of these uses may result in increased traffic, noise and other unexpected gifts just as a church might. … I am a strong believer in looking to the future – trying to anticipate needs – all in the vein of community livability.”

The process for a conditional use permit includes contacting adjacent and impacted neighbors in the vicinity of the location of the development, allowing those landowners opportunity to provide input and testimony into the process.

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