Local Heroes: Friends of Linn County

By Kevin Pozzi, 2011.

It’s a familiar story across the state: a contentious land use issue spurs local outrage; neighbors weigh their options and seek support from 1000 Friends of Oregon. The result of the case may be insignificant in the big picture, but the newly empowered citizens band together to promote common sense development.

Linn County pumpkin field This was the script in Linn County, where Irina and Jim Just sought help in preserving prime farm and forestland from the threat of a proposed golf course. They formed ‘Friends of Hamilton Creek,’ but were unable to stop the proposed development.

“We were new to the process and thought a few nice words would help convince LUBA,” Irina explains of their case at the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals.

Thankfully, the setback didn’t sap the couple’s dedication to land use planning in the region.

After renaming and incorporating their organization in 1997 as Friends of Linn County, the group held a well-attended 25th anniversary party honoring the passage of Senate Bill 100, Oregon’s historic land use planning law. The seeds of local activism were planted.

Friends of Linn County has won many a battle. Beyond their public victories, the group has worked behind the scenes, beating back many poorly-planned or illegal proposals before they go forward - saving everyone time, energy, and money.

“We’ve been working on a hot one lately!” Irina says with enthusiasm.

In the late 2000s, the Board of Commissioners purchased 175 acres of valuable and productive farm land near the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 34. After hopes that a Wal Mart distribution center could be enticed to locate there didn’t materialize, the county promoted a plan for an RV park.

The Linn County Farm Bureau and local farmers teamed with Friends of Linn County to take the county's approval of the RV park to LUBA.   They were victorious at LUBA, but the RV park idea is back again. Friends of Linn County remains optimistic they'll be successful in saving that piece of farmland for agriculture.

The work is tedious and technical, but critical for this predominately rural region.

“We aren’t really supported by the local government. A developer could walk into the planning department and basically get approval for anything,” Just exclaimed, exaggerating to make her point. “But with our group around, sometimes they'll say 'no' and blame us -  'it's no use, Friends of Linn County will just appeal.’”

What does the future hold for local organizations like Friends of Linn County? While continuing their focus on common sense land use planning, Irina feels passionately about safeguarding agriculture, a way of life familiar to many in the region.

“Personally, I want our biggest goal to be about preserving our land for food production,” she said.  “Defending  farmland from development is vital to increasing local food production."

Click here for a complete list of 1000 Friends affiliates around the state.