Protecting Rural Coastal Lands from Sprawl

Astoria with the Columbia River and Young’s Bay in the Distance.


On August 24, 2018, Crag and our client, Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, celebrated a win for rural working lands and the laws that protect coastal landscapes.

In 2004, Oregonians adopted a law that rolled back protections for farm and forest lands. Thousands of development proposals seeking to convert rural lands to urban or suburban uses flooded in. In 2007, Oregonians realized their mistake and overwhelmingly repealed the law and closed the loophole. The change meant that only those developments that were far enough along were allowed to continue as “vested rights.”

Over the past 15 years, Crag has helped community members and local organizations, including Oregon Shores and 1000 Friends of Oregon affiliates, hold back the flood of development. After the law was repealed, we challenged dozens of claims for large subdivisions. Today, the remaining challenges focus on whether developers went far enough to secure a vested right to complete the project lawfully. One of these proposals would have converted acres of rural forest land in Clatsop County, zoned for forest uses, to a 30-lot residential subdivision. Oregon’s land use system generally prevents this type of development: rural lands are meant to be preserved for farm and forest uses, with residential developments clustered in urban and suburban areas.

Today the Oregon Court of Appeals found that Clatsop County should not have approved the development as a vested right. The developer had not proceeded far enough before the law changed to allow the construction to continue.

Much of our work is a marathon, not a sprint. This case has taken 10 years, and we have been up to the Court of Appeals twice since we started. With the Court’s decision today, we’ve upheld Oregon’s land use safeguards – the laws that shape our landscapes, prevent sprawl, and protect rural working lands.

Read the Court of Appeals decision.

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