A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Albany, Linn County spar over land use

Written February 15th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

The file on the Ellison land use request at the Linn County planning office.

The Albany City Council has voted to try to block a land division outside the city limits approved by the Linn County Board of Commissioners. The case is of interest to anyone who owns and might want to develop property within the city’s “urban growth boundary.”

The council went into an executive session, closed to the public, at the end of its Wednesday night regular meeting. Video coverage of the meeting was turned off. With video remaining off, the council then reconvened in open session and without further discussion voted 5-1 “to file notice of intent to appeal” the county’s decision on the land-use matter, but also “to enter into discussion with the county to come to a resolution” in that and similar disputes.

The case concerns the county board’s approval of a land division of 16.7 acres on Knox Butte, east of Scravel Hill Road near Linnwood Drive, into two parcels of 5 acres and 11.7 acres. The land, owned by Monty and Linda Ellison, is about one mile northeast of the city limits but within Albany’s urban growth boundary.

The two parcels, undeveloped and partially forested, would be intended for one house each. The city staff has objected on the grounds that single homes may not fit the eventual zoning district there if it’s ever annexed. The owners maintain that residential is the only logical use for the hilly terrain, and if annexation ever does become a possibility, the two parcels are large enough to be further developed. They also point out that Albany’s comprehensive plan shows the area as residential.

Albany planning and public works officials worry that land divisions outside the city limits will cause complications and additional expense in providing utilities if and when such lands become part of the city. Albany and Linn County have an intergovernmental agreement that gives the city some say over land use actions in the urban growth boundary, but they disagree on exactly what the agreement provides. The county approved the Ellison application over the city’s objection.

At a council work session Monday, Chairman Roger Nyquist of the commissioners and former state Sen. Frank Morse urged the council to support the Ellison request. Morse said that if the council approves an appeal, “it would essentially be endorsing a no-development standard within the urban growth boundary.”

If the council follows through, this would be the second case it takes to the Land Use Board of Appeals. Last year, LUBA upheld the city’s stand and blocked Daniel and Sheila Headings from dividing a 2-acre parcel on Scravel Hill Road, three-tenths of a mile outside the city limits. That request, too, had been approved by the county commissioners over the city’s objections.

State law says jurisdictions have 120 days to act on land-use requests. The Ellisons had extended that deadline once, but the extension was about to run out.

Rich Kellum was the only council member to vote no on the appeal motion Wednesday. Since reporters are obligated not to report remarks during executive sessions they attend, I asked Kellum to explain his vote afterward. His response, in part:

“The commissioners took this up to begin with because 120 days were about to happen. The 120 days was up on Feb. 1.  Mr. Ellison could go to court and get his way because of that.  So, the commissioners passed the request. A city person whom I respect expressed concern to me that I should make sure the council knew of the time crunch so they would not feel slapped in the face by the decision. I pointed out to the council that if we take the county to LUBA, that is a form of attack. They didn’t seem to understand that or they didn’t care. My opinion is, if you want to solve a problem you do not spit in the face of the person you are trying to negotiate with. That thought fell on deaf ears.” (hh)

One page in the thick Linn County planning file on the Ellison request for a land division on Knox Butte.

13 responses to “Albany, Linn County spar over land use”

  1. Jim Thomas says:

    I really get tired of seeing private property owners rights being trampled on. I person should have a right to the use of their property. It’s not within the city limits now, and there is no telling when it may be. The county should have jurisdiction and their decision should not be based on what the city may do at some point in the future. The city needs to butt out.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    When the state decided to take away freedom of choice from private landowners and give it to government(s), one stated purpose was to remove private interest and profits from land use decisions.

    Well, deciding what is in the public interest and the ability to generate public profit are just as corrupting. But it goes beyond dollars. The raw power to control human behavior is at work here. And competing governments will spend enormous amounts to keep it.

    In the private world when private parties have a dispute they resolve it through a disinterested judge. When governments fight over land use, they resolve it though a political body called LUBA.

    And we call this progress?

  3. Fred says:

    This seems like a bizarre position taken by the city. Unfortunately the public is shut out as to the real motives behind the cities actions as all the dicussion was done behind closed doors.

  4. Jesse Sims says:

    All government agencies want power over all things. It’s in the nature of the beast.
    They are sure to overlook private landowner rights when they can tie this up in court and bankrupt the landowners with our tax dollars. Sad day in America.
    Albany’s City Council is a socialist joke.

  5. J. Jacobson says:

    One can assume from Kellum’s remarks that he’s just applied for something at the County Level. His remarks sound an awful lot like those ex-Acting Attorney General made when he was auditioning for that position. Kellum’s remarks beg the question, just who exactly is he working for…the people of Albany or something else.

    • Al Nyman says:

      I think the city ought to tell the feds what to do as there appears to be no limit on local and state over reach.

  6. Ray Kopczynski says:

    “My opinion is, if you want to solve a problem you do not spit in the face of the person you are trying to negotiate with.”

    Considering LUBA’s upholding the city’s appeal of the county’s previous attempt to end-run the existing rules, why is the intent to appeal surprising at all? The underlying issues are exactly the same. (HH – ‘Last year, LUBA upheld the city’s stand and blocked Daniel and Sheila Headings from dividing a 2-acre parcel on Scravel Hill Road, three-tenths of a mile outside the city limits. That request, too, had been approved by the county commissioners over the city’s objections.’)

    This is simply a notice of intent to appeal with opportunity to not have to do so: (‘…but also ‘to enter into discussion with the county to come to a resolution” in that and similar disputes. – HH’)

    It shows the ongoing (and working) processes in place to resolve issues…nothing more.

    • S. Whittle says:

      This reader begs to differ. The idea that a City can disallow what is otherwise fully legal land use because the City might grab that land in the future is tantamount to making landowners guilty of Thought Crime.

      Landowners thought they were in compliance. The City Thought Squad says, NO! They’re being thoughtful about the future. The City’s thought: if landowners thought they’rewinningl, they thought wrong. Thought Crime – it’s in all our futures.

  7. Don says:

    Guess the CITY OF ALBANY has all of their affairs in order.

  8. L. LaRosseau says:

    All those complaining on the Right should be pleased about the current divided-government smackdown Hering outlines. The City and the County at loggerheads – precisely the outcome anticipated by the Founding Fathers. (one can only imagine how much better the nation might be now had Founding Mothers and some others been included back then)

    One need only look at the Federal government. Washington DC has ground to a halt (with the exception of investigatory efforts) thanks to the Dems taking control of the House chamber. Divided, we stand. United, we overreach.

    The writers of the Constitution built this in on purpose, so if you’re a fan of that document, you ought be excited by the idea of the wack-doodles at the County Commission locked in combat with the City Council Wrecking Crew. By the time this baby wends it’s way through the hoops, no one will remember what it was all about.

  9. Greg Krpalek says:

    So much for being outstanding citizens and tax payors in the community for years and being private land owners! The city should reconsider their decision on this one. They have this one wrong.

  10. Bryan says:

    Such BS! It’s private land! Time to revolt against government overreach! You want to have a say then buy the land, that’s the way it works!

  11. Cheryl P says:

    I could see blocking it if the intent was to build apartment complexes on the land, but two, single-family houses?!? But then again, maybe that is the issue. I’m sure the tax revenue on an apartment complex is greater than a single-family dwelling and Albany is clearly about the Benjamins.


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