By: Will Van Vactor
I found a recent article from Eugene's Register-Guard interesting because it points out the challenges both county governments and private property owners face when developing and using farmland. In the article, the reporter outlines the story of a rural craft brewery in Lane County.
The brewery has been selling beer and food for five years on land zoned for exclusive farm use ("EFU"). According to the story, the brewery has an enclosed 1,500 square foot area that the County became aware of after the owner began using it for seating. Due to concerns expressed by the fire marshal and building inspector, the County closed the seating area. It also sounds like there are issues with using the commercial kitchen to serve on-site guests.
For local governments, these types of cases underscore the difficulty of enforcing building and commercial codes designed to protect people from unsafe buildings and fire hazards. Often, on rural land, the discovery of violations is by chance, since local governments don't have the resources to investigate and inspect every property. Further, in a case like this, the local government is most likely just trying to protect people and preserve farmland, both reasonable goals. It can often be difficult, though, to interpret and explain the applicable regulations and laws so that the public understands that the rules are applied fairly and consistently.
And for the landowner, the complex land use regime in which decisions are made about his or her property can be perplexing. In cases like this, there may be questions like: Why are some vineyards allowed commercial kitchens, while a brewery is precluded from doing so? And also, since it appears to be an honest mistake: Why can't the disputed use continue so the property owner can generate revenue to fix the problem? Other issues, like why building permits are not necessary for some structures in the EFU zone, but required for other building types, further complicate development on rural land.
The bottom line is nonfarm development on agricultural land is highly regulated in Oregon. The interplay of building codes and land use regulations, further complicates how such property can be used and developed. Before a property owner undertakes development, it is important to make sure all regulations and codes are understood. One of the risks, as happened to the brewer in the Registered-Guard's story, is a local government feels obligated to stop the development or business to protect the public, but in doing so, cuts off critical revenue to the property owner.
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