Friday, January 11, 2008

Camas planning put on ice

Judge issues injunction on far-reaching rezone

Express Staff Writer

Camas County Commissioner Ron Chapman, county legal counsel Stephanie J. Bonney, Commission Chair Ken Backstrom and Commissioner Bill Davis deliberate at a public hearing in Fairfield. Photo by

The legality of a 20,000-acre rezone in Camas County came further into question in late December when a 5th District judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the county from processing land-use applications.

The Camas County Commission adopted the sweeping and controversial changes, many that included up-zoning in rural parts of the county, in March 2007.

The injunction came at the request of Ketchum attorney Christopher Simms, who is representing George Martin and Martin Custom Homes. In his decision, Elgee indicated the injunction was issued because of Camas County's failure to maintain records as required by law.

The injunction became effective immediately and will remain in effect until further order from the court.

"To an outsider, all of this looks as if the Board of Commissioners has gathered the data, deliberated along the way, consulted with their P&Z Commissioner, and made changes and revisions to the proposed Comp Plan, Zoning Ordinance, and Zoning Map, all without a record," Elgee wrote. "Then, once everything had been decided, they held a public hearing, on the record."

In his decision Elgee cited more than a half dozen meetings for which a record does not exist, or could not be provided.

Simms pointed out, however, that the county's poor record keeping is only part of the lawsuit.

"This is only a very small part of this lawsuit," he said. "What we alleged in addition to the failure to retain a reviewable record were conflicts of interest by the chair of the P&Z and a county commissioner."

The court also previously found that the P&Z had not been lawfully formed, but declined to issue an injunction on that ground alone. The conflict-of-interest issues are pending rulings by the court following an evidentiary hearing. In that hearing evidence was introduced showing that the chairman of the P&Z, real estate broker Ed Smith, owns substantial acreage that was up-zoned.

Simms also said the county failed to do any analysis under the "substantive dictates" section of the Local Land Use Planning Act. The dictates require analysis of how rezones would affect emergency services, economics, the environment and social issues.

"And there's no analysis in any of this process that would indicate that they did any of those things," Simms said.

Camas County, at the direction of the Board of Commissioners, began the process leading to the massive rezone of Camas County in late 2006.

Camas County Commissioner Ken Backstrom declined to comment in a telephone conversation this week, but he said in a previous interview that the changes were necessary given the possibility for significant growth in the county. The changes allow officials to better manage that expected growth.

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

Martin, who owns approximately 180 acres of developable property adjacent to the city of Fairfield, was aggravated by the lack of public notice and participation in the process and apparent conflict of interest inherent when officials favorably rezoned property they owned.

"It's a pretty pointed opinion, and that's only based on the first hearing we've had," Martin said. "The importance of it is it freezes Camas County acting on their new zoning ordinances until this is resolved."

Martin repeatedly cautioned the board of ongoing violations of law during the meetings leading up to the rezone and subsequent lawsuit.

"The court's opinion is a real validation of what I have been saying to the Camas County Commission for several years," Martin said. "They can't operate this county as if they owned it. Government officials must follow the rules and work for the public interest, not their own."

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