Another Voice: County land use decision process needs ‘a better approach’

Recent decisions and appeals related to land use planning in Hood River County reflect a dynamic tension between further growth and development, and restraints protecting the rural resource lands throughout the county. The issues include short term rental (STR) permits and the DeeTour concert and hotel applications. The Hood River Valley Residents Committee (HRVRC) is a 501c3, non-profit, community based organization (over 95 percent of our 700 donors live in Hood River). We seek to present our positions with respect and dignity while working towards solutions to help make the greater Hood River community a better place for all. It is never our intent to create turmoil and problems.


Dale Hill

Our mission states: “To protect Hood River’s farms, forests, special wild places and the livability of its cities and rural communities.” Goal 1 of Oregon’s land use system is citizen involvement in planning decisions. A primary emphasis of the remaining 18 land use goals is the preservation of agricultural and forest “resource lands,” which constitute the overwhelming majority of all land in Hood River County. Resource land protection has driven HRVRC since our inception, and continues to do so.

Ensuring land use planning follows established laws, regulations and guidelines is paramount for us — whenever it appears that such land use laws are not being followed we work to ensure compliance through occasional and very deliberate appeals of decisions made by the planning departments, planning commissions, city council and county commission. Public testimony and appeals processes are important components of Oregon’s land use planning structure. The appeals process is both lengthy and costly: for applicants, the county, and for a community group like HRVRC. We do not wish to prolong approvals, nor increase costs for anyone. However, to achieve goal compliance, we have and will use the legally established processes all must follow.

We are disappointed with decisions appearing contrary to or unsupported by land use planning laws. We feel such interpretations result in unnecessary, poor uses of county funds and staff time. The function of county zoning ordinances is to define limitations that serve the greater good of the overall community. We believe a better approach is for staff to begin with clarifying to applicants the state and local regulatory structure and limitations affecting their applications which county staff are required to follow. Then, and only if appropriate within this framework, would staff assist applicants in their efforts. Allowing approvals based on questionable legal grounds does a tremendous disservice to applicants if the results are delay, additional costs, and ultimate denial of projects. This approach will help avoid legal appeals and conserve scarce County resources.

Finding a balance between serving the greater good for the greater number, and the particular interests of project applicants is challenging. HRVRC’s record of success over the years indicates that we land on the correct legal side of matters more frequently than not. We do not pursue such challenges unless we believe there is an adequate legal basis.

Preservation of resource lands in the Hood River Valley will help maintain and even strengthen our economically vibrant, rural-based community for future generations. This is the goal which HRVRC ultimately seeks to achieve. It is our desire to work whenever possible with the county within the land use process. Yet when necessary, we will utilize the procedures enshrined in Oregon’s land use planning system and legal environment to assure conformance with this system: to work for a Hood River where everyone who lives and works here can enjoy livability and affordability — both now and for years into the future.

Dale Hill of Hood River is a board member of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, a non-profit, land use advocacy organization formed in 1977 with a mission to protect Hood River’s farmland, forests, special natural places and the livability of its urban and rural communities.

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