Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lawsuit seeks to halt rezoning in Camas County

Plaintiff claims impropriety on part of P&Z, Commission

Express Staff Writer

If recently filed legal action is approved, development could come to a temporary halt throughout Camas County.

Property owner George Martin filed an application for a preliminary injunction on May 4, asking that the county be restrained from processing all land-use applications submitted under zoning changes enacted in April.

The application contends that the changes were made under a conflict of interest since the changes benefited the properties of elected officials.

"The Camas P&Z and Board of Commissioners have cut the public out of the debate on land use for their own self-interest," Martin's attorney, Ketchum-based Christopher Simms, contended during an interview on May 9.

The injunction application also contends that "the Planning and Zoning Commission was not lawfully formed and therefore lacked power to make the required recommendations."

Martin recently purchased 180 acres of property, just outside the city of Fairfield, on which he planned to create a residential development within the next five years, Simms said.

The injunction application contends that the county's amended Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance up-zoned more than 20,000 acres of Agricultural zoning, under which one home per 80 acres could be built, to densities ranging from one home per 20 acres to as many as four homes per acre. At the same time, the application states, it reduced the potential development of Martin's property under the comp plan's land-use map from seven homes per acre to one home per acre.

The application states that County Commissioner Ken Backstrom and P&Z Commissioners Ed Smith and Robbie Miller each own property on which a greater density is allowed under the rezoning.

"How can Smith and Backstrom deliberate with so much economic interest?" Simms asked in the interview.

While Backstrom declined to discuss details during an interview, he did deny any wrongdoing on the part of the county or himself.

"I don't feel there's any substance to any of this," he said. "(The Board of Commissioners) work hard to abide by the rules and make sure everything is done properly."

In an interview, Camas County attorney Stephanie Bonney said the Board of Commissioners legally created the P&Z through an ordinance and that there was never a conflict of interest during the rezoning process. She said the board made a "legislative decision" that applied to the entire county, rather than a "quasi-judicial proceeding," in which judgments are made on individual properties.

The application for preliminary injunction also contends that the county failed to make findings of fact, thereby making a meaningful review of its actions impossible. It also contends that the county failed to do required floodplain research on over 20,000 acres subject to rezoning, as well as any analysis of the cost of services that might be affected by increased density in certain areas.

Bonney said that because the board's zoning changes affected property across the county, findings of fact were not required.

The county has until May 24 to respond to the preliminary injunction application. Bonney said she will likely seek an extension of the deadline and file a motion for summary judgment.

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