Three weeks ago, in Part 1 of this series, I addressed tax, water, soil fertility and access issues that a buyer should address before purchasing farm property. In Part 2, I will review the various land use permitting considerations that could affect use of agricultural land. Remember that you may want to have professionals on your team to help guide you, including a real estate broker, a certified public account and a land use attorney. While there may be additional costs at the outset for these services, a fully informed decision is priceless.
In Oregon, agricultural land is resource land, and when so designated, is protected by one of the most restricted zoning classifications. Farming is safeguarded, not only because of its historic importance to people in the state, but because it continues to be a major employer. The purpose of exclusive farm use, or EFU, zone regulations is to ensure that valuable land is retained for agricultural use and to minimize other uses that conflict with farming.
When it comes to using farm property for anything other than production of food and fiber, land use permits are required and may be opposed by neighboring owners and other interested parties. This even includes building a single-family residential home on EFU-zoned property, which requires a conditional use permit. That application process will necessitate soils testing by a licensed soils scientist to determine if there are soils not suitable for agricultural use.
If a home is already located on the property you are considering, there are additional restrictions that may prohibit any other residential structure on the property, including an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU. Also, some people may assume that a tract of agricultural land can be subdivided, but once again, protection of resource land will either significantly limit or prevent division of the property. Be sure to consult with a land use attorney to get a clear understanding of development limitations on the property. Agricultural structures such as barns are typically allowed, but even exempt structures must obtain a written statement of exemption from the local jurisdiction.
In addition to permitting requirements for structures on a farm property, be sure to consider use regulations. Some owners of agricultural land have discovered (the hard way) that opening up the property for commercial uses, such as for weddings, overnight guests—even pitching tents or yurts, weddings, horseback riding, llama farms and other similar venues, requires local review and permitting. Common issues that are considered in reviewing a request for commercial-type uses include availability of parking, adequacy of access, traffic/transportation impacts, noise impacts and septic capacity. If surrounding properties are in active farm use, non-farm uses may be considered disruptive.
With a little bit of homework before buying agricultural property in Central Oregon, you can be one step closer to the dream of owning a farm or ranch!