Farmland wins a round

  The Oregon Supreme Court has given state agriculture interests reason to celebrate. Last month the court upheld the state's right to enforce strict rules against nonagricultural uses of farmland. That means a lot to farmers in western Oregon's Willamette Valley, home to 70 percent of the state's population as well as to its richest soil.

"We have an incredible growth boom in western Oregon," says Blair Batson, attorney for 1000 Friends of Oregon, a watchdog group that praised the court's decision. "The pressure is very intense."

The court ruled on a county's challenge to a state commission's decision in 1993 to restrict development on "high-value" farmland. The Land Conservation and Development Commission made the changes after finding that many counties were approving farm dwellings that had little connection with agriculture. Seventy-five percent of the building involved structures like homes, golf courses and churches on land where owners promised some farming would take place.

But Lane County, located in the valley's south end, sees the issue as one of local control. Kent Howe, county planning director, says the county already has tough land-use protections, and the county can do the job of enforcement alone.

Says Howe, "We feel (the state) exceeded their authority."

The county has asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider the case. For more information, call 1000 Friends of Oregon at 503/ 497-1000, or Kent Howe at 541/ 683-3734.

* Peter Chilson

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