A win for Goal 1 & public participation in Hood River County

Meriel Darzen and Alyson Marchi-Young
Tue, 10/30/2018 (All day)

Our affiliate Hood River Valley Residents Committee (HRVRC) won an important case at the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) on October 15, 2018. HRVRC had appealed a local permit decision that was made without a hearing.

Hood River County’s local planning director recently approved a conditional use permit to allow a short-term rental on exclusive farmland. Hood River County is among the most expensive rural counties in the US and the unprecedented growth in Short Term Rentals and second homes has started to impact housing affordability, neighborhood livability and threaten farmland. The City of Hood River and the local communities throughout the county have been struggling with a very tight housing market for locals, as well as ensuring that their incredibly valuable agricultural resources remain viable for current and future farmers. A short-term rental on farmland does not help either of these issues. Instead, it puts a greater strain on the community and further drives a wedge between housing and farmland preservation.

The decision to allow the permit, made with no hearing, was a blow to Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goal 1 – Citizen Involvement. HRVRC initially appealed the Planning Director’s decision to the County Planning Commission. However, the County denied that HRVRC had standing to appeal because they had not submitted comments before the decision was made. You read that right. An appeal of a decision made behind closed-doors was denied on the basis that the appellant was not also ‘in the room,’ so to speak.

Heather Staten

“Public involvement is the bedrock of Oregon’s land use system.” Said Heather Staten, Executive Director of Hood River Valley Residents Committee. “One of our organization’s most important jobs is protecting the public’s right to meaningfully participate in land use decisions.” 

State law provides that where a city or county does not hold a public hearing on a permit application, aggrieved parties or those that were entitled to notice of the decision have the opportunity to appeal and ask for an evidentiary hearing. HRVRC, represented by Sean Malone, took their case to LUBA, arguing that because a decision was made without a hearing, they are entitled to an appeal. LUBA agreed. It held that Hood River County’s code provision denying appeals in decisions without a hearing was inconsistent with state law. The county’s position effectively deprived aggrieved parties from their “day in court” to contest the permit.

This win is very important because it supports the public’s ability to participate in local land use proceedings, validating Goal 1. “In the future, folks in Hood River will be allowed to participate just like Goal 1 and state law envisions.” Says Staten.

While a single conditional use permit may seem innocuous, this particular confluence between farmland preservation and short-term rentals really does need more thoughtful review. We are grateful for the tireless efforts of HRVRC to promote a healthy, balanced region for their community.