Retired county planner offers real talk on county’s approach to land-use

Comp plans involve lots of people looking at maps.

Comp plans involve lots of people looking at maps.

Before Gordy Euler retired as a county planner in November, he typed up a memo to his boss, Director of Community Planning Oliver Orjiako, that offered a frank assessment of some fraught land-use issues. His memo hints that Clark County will very likely get hauled to court over its handling of them. Euler also encouraged the county to somehow make peace with a activist group that’s long felt victimized by its land-use policies.

One of the goals of the Growth Management Act, the state’s land-use law, is to protect agricultural land. The county’s most recent update to its comprehensive plan, a document required by the law, has been under appeal for improperly converting agricultural land into a rural industrial land bank. According to Euler, the county is likely to keep running into this issue unless it changes its approach.

In his memo, Euler notes that in 2007 the county “failed miserably” in its attempt to urbanize over 4,300 acres of agricultural land “without much analysis.” Although the county was more strategic with the rural industrial land bank, he notes that it was still appealed.

“I think it’s safe to say the county doesn’t have a good policy on agriculture, at least one that it implements well,” wrote Euler.

He further wrote that the county will never be successful in converting agricultural land without “additional tools in the land use tool box.”

“How the county addresses (agricultural) lands seems to be the most problematic issue we have when it comes to updating the comp plan,” wrote Euler.

Euler suggests in the memo that the county needs a process consistent with state law that evaluates proposals to convert agricultural land, especially for cities seeking to expand their boundaries. He also suggests a transfer of development rights program, which redirects development that would occur on farmland to elsewhere.

When Euler wrote the memo, the county was crafting new regulations to allow accessory dwelling units, a small apartment attached to or near a primary residence, in rural areas. He wrote that allowing these units could mean a property could have four dwelling units on a rural parcel: the primary residence, a guest house, an ADU and a dwelling as a temporary hardship.

“I don’t believe this squares with the comp plan policy in any rural district…” wrote Euler.

The county is currently working on development regulations for freight-dependent industrial development on agricultural land along the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad. Despite a recent change to state law allowing this development, Euler wrote, “My guess is that any code the county adopts that allows industrial uses on resource lands will be challenged….”

In a “PS” Euler wrote that the county should figure out what to do with “CCCU.” Euler was most likely referring to Clark County Citizens United, a property rights group that routinely criticizes the county’s land-use policies.

“I hesitate to mention this final issue, but as challenging as it would be it is appropriate that at some level we figure out how to relate to CCCU and their perception that the (Growth Management Act) is not working for them,” wrote Euler.

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