50-year land use plan approved in S. Oregon

It's designed to attract businesses, promote agriculture, save money

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GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Once resistant to the idea of state-supported land-use planning, Jackson County and six cities within its boundaries have made their way down a long and winding road to make tough decisions on where jobs will be created, how cities will grow, and where farmland will be protected over the next 50 years.

After 12 years of hard work by a variety of participants, the Regional Problem Solving Plan for Jackson County was approved Thursday by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission.

"Our reputation wasn't very good prior to this in land use," said Michael Cavallaro, director of the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, who helped keep the process moving. "We were saying, 'We can do better if you just give us a chance.' All of a sudden, we had the chance."

He said the RPS plan will pay off by attracting businesses, promoting investment in agriculture, and saving money on road building by getting rid of uncertainty over how future development will play out as the region's population is expected to double in the next 50 years.

"There aren't a lot of political games that need to take place now," he said. "It's laid out now. It's who's first in line."

The Oregon Legislature adopted a landmark land use planning law in 1973, which quickly became hated in many regions that balked at the idea of the government telling landowners what they could and couldn't do with their land, depending on what some planner decided was its best use.

In the 1990s, the Department of Land Conservation and Development told the city of Medford and other medium-sized cities they had to develop a reserve of lands that would be available for urban expansion over the next 50 years. The Legislature rescinded the law at the end of that decade. But by then, Medford, neighboring towns and Jackson County had gotten over their differences and decided they liked working together to solve these issues. Cavallaro got money from the state to help pay for continuing the process.

As it was, the city of Jacksonville pulled out in 2010, leaving Medford, Ashland, Central Point, Eagle Point, Phoenix and Talent.

The accomplishment is a big deal because it is the largest plan to come to fruition under this process, said Greg Holmes, Southern Oregon advocate for 1000 Friends of Oregon, the land use planning watchdog group.