Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Camas County revises land-use, zoning maps

Moratorium halts development for 9 miles surrounding Fairfield

Express Staff Writer

Ask nearly anyone living in Fairfield and the surrounding Camas Prairie and most will admit that growth and all of its associated impacts are coming to this mostly undeveloped area.

Where one now sees expansive views of wide-open range and farmland, new subdivisions may soon begin to pop up, many Camas County residents will tell you.

Mindful of this, the Camas County Commission has been considering a number of proposed changes to the county's comprehensive plan and zoning and subdivision ordinances in recent months. The changes are meant to prepare Camas County for an expected onslaught of new growth in the coming years, county officials say.

As a result, the commissioners officially approved changes Thursday, March 29, to the county comprehensive plan's land-use map and zoning map to curb sprawl in the county while also permitting increased density options in selected areas.

In addition, because of concerns previously expressed by Fairfield Mayor David Hanks and the Fairfield City Council, the County Commission voted to instate an emergency six-month moratorium on subdivision applications for private lands located in a select nine-square mile area surrounding the city. Fairfield officials are concerned that allowing increased density within their proposed area of city impact will harm the city's ability to attract prospective landowners who might wish to request annexation into the city.

The moratorium will allow the county to work with the city on possibly creating a Fairfield area of city impact, Camas County Commissioner Ken Backstrom said.

"Hopefully we can come up with something that everyone can agree on and be happy with," he said.

Backstrom said he had already spoken with Hanks about the emergency moratorium. "He's in favor of this."

The changes include the elimination of the Agricultural Transition district as a type of zoning on the Camas County comprehensive plan's land-use map. The map is essentially the county's vision for how it would like to grow in the future, and doesn't actually change any on the ground zoning.

The changes to the Camas County zoning map are more extensive, and include a variety of rezones that would increase the available density on properties scattered across thousands of acres in the county and adjacent to the city of Fairfield, the county's only incorporated municipality.

The areas rezoned on the map have until now been within the county's Ag-80 district, which allows only one home per 80 acres.

The changes couldn't be more timely, Backstrom said in an earlier interview. "I think we need to be thankful that we're ahead of the curve and we haven't had a huge population boom."

At a hearing in Fairfield earlier in March, public comments in favor of both the map changes and separate but related amendments to the county's subdivision and zoning maps outnumbered comments that were in opposition to the changes. The proposed amendments to the subdivision and zoning ordinances are still under review and have yet to be voted on by the county commission.

Until now, Camas County landowners have been able to come to the county and request Agricultural Transitional zoning on any property within the county. Amendments to the county's zoning ordinance that haven't been voted on yet would eliminate that opportunity by removing the district as an available type of zoning. The change would give property owners who have had their land rezoned Agricultural Transition, but haven't begun to develop yet, four years to do so before the county will consider rezoning those properties to a type of zoning district they chose as part of a new public hearing process.

Currently, Camas County's Agricultural Transition zone allows for a density of up to one home per acre.

While landowners will still be able to petition the county to have their properties rezoned, having a clear zoning map will give the county something to rely on when they make those decisions. It will also give the county the legal standing to turn down those rezone applications if they choose to, Backstrom said.

"That doesn't mean we'll turn them all down," he said.

The county was recently beginning to get inundated with numerous rezone applications for scattered acreages across the Camas Prairie, Backstrom said.

"It was leading to sprawl," he said. "We wanted to halt that."

A public hearing before the Camas County Commission to discuss the proposed amendments to the county's zoning ordinance has been scheduled for April 18. The proposed changes to the county's subdivision ordinance have been sent back to the Camas County Planning and Zoning Commission for further review.

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