Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Camas P&Z re-recommends 20,000-acre rezone

Officials say actions are to right wrongs cited by 5th District judge


George Martin Photo by Greg Stahl

It was a unanimous vote of one.

When it came time Monday evening for the Camas County Planning and Zoning Commission to vote on amendments to the county's zoning ordinance, five of six commissioners stood one by one and recused themselves from the proceedings until only Commissioner Celia Brown remained.

"You may deliberate with yourself," said Boise Attorney Paul Fitzer, who provided counsel on the matter of the "re-rezone."

The commissioners said they recused themselves because they are property owners in Camas County. In an interview after the meeting, Brown said she owned property in the county, but not inside the borders of any of the areas affected by the rezone.

The saga that culminated in this week's events in Camas County is long and increasingly complicated. The short of it, however, is that in March 2007 the county adopted a massive rezone of 20,000 acres. Many of the zoning amendments called for increasing developable densities in rural parts of the county.

Camas County developer George Martin filed suit, alleging the county had acted behind closed doors and without the public's interest in mind. In December and March, 5th District Judge Robert Elgee granted two preliminary injunctions, preventing the county from implementing its new zoning until the matter is resolved. A trial is scheduled for May 20.

In his rulings, Elgee cited conflicts of interest among members of the P&Z and County Commission. As well, he cited inadequate records from meetings that led to the zoning amendments passed in March 2007.

That was the point of this week's proceeding, Fitzer said.

"For the time and cost of what litigation costs, it seemed easier to have a public hearing and allow anyone who wanted to testify on the subject matter to do so, hopefully fix any procedural error that might have occurred," he said.

Martin said the commissioners' attempt to fix things was outside the boundaries set by Elgee in the preliminary injunctions.

"It's obvious that a predetermined outcome of this meeting happened months ago," Martin said. "I believe that every member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and County Commission is guilty of contempt of court, and time will tell."

Martin called Monday's proceedings a "real, tainted process."

He was not alone in his assessment.

Fairfield resident Dennis Foisy called the meeting's conclusions "predetermined" and the proceedings a potentially "huge legal quagmire."

"This is nothing new, the way this is going," he said. "It's the same as it's always been. I don't trust this board at all. There's an agenda behind what's going on here. The zoning map is the same map as it was before with a few slight changes.

"This board's prohibited from moving forward. I don't see how, under any other law, a new zoning ordinance can move forward when one has been enjoined. It's like cancer in remission: still have the cancer."

Foisy said the legislative actions cannot occur without participation from the people, "not in this county, not in this state, not in this country."

"There's no case law to support what this board's doing," he said. "We're out here in new territory."

Other residents asked the county to hire a planning consultant. Some cited specific concerns with the proposed rezone.

There was, however, support for the measure.

Fairfield resident W.A. Simon offered a 119-signature petition to the P&Z in a show of support for the rezone.

"I think they're the kind (of people) who don't go to really studying the documents that are prepared by our planning and zoning people and county commissioners because they've got a great trust in their elected officials," Simon said. "So far, and I can remember quite a ways back, we've never found fault with them for the actions they've taken."

Corral resident Marvin France also submitted a petition, his with 123 signatures, in support of the county's efforts.

Boise-based developer Jim Chambers owns thousands of acres on the Camas Prairie. He said he has stayed on the fence for the duration of the county's efforts to implement a rezone, and his property is not cited for change.

"Just be careful about whose land is colored in and what you're doing with it," Chambers said. "Now you're in the middle of a lawsuit. Why would you rush?"

The commissioners, however, were resolute. In three separate votes leading up to Brown's unanimous one-vote approval of the zoning ordinance amendments, the commissioners opined on approval of a land-use map and comprehensive plan recommendations.

"This isn't spur-of-the-moment," said Commissioner Ed Smith. "We've been working on this stuff for two and a half years. Judge Elgee thinks at this point in time there may have been procedural errors, and that's what we're trying to correct at this point in time."

After the series of votes on the associated amendments, it was Brown sitting alone at a large table.

"Well, I'm going to recommend that we pass this on to the commissioners for their consideration for approval," she said.

In a Tuesday meeting, the Camas County Commission set a May 12 public hearing to consider the P&Z's recommendations. The meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. at the Camas County Senior Citizens Center in Fairfield.




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