Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 16, 2008

The Big Look Task Force on Oregon Land Use Issues Preliminary Recommendations

As students of planning law know, Oregon was the original trailblazer in the field of state planning and growth management.  Therefore, it is important to watch the State-initiated assessment of how well the statewide planning program, initially adopted in the 1970s (and of course updated from time to time) has achieved its intended goals, as well as recommendations for further modifications to ensure that the state land use law is poised to meet the present and anticipated future challenges.


The Oregon Task Force on Land Use Planning (also known as the Big Look Task Force), created in 2005 by Senate Bill 82, is charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the Oregon Statewide Planning Program and to make recommendations for any needed changes to land use policy to the 2009 Legislature. Specifically, the Task Force is charged with studying and making recommendations on:


1. Oregon’s land use planning program in meeting the current and future needs of

Oregonians in all parts of the state;

2. Respective roles and responsibilities of state and local governments in land use

planning; and

3. Land use issues specific to areas inside and outside urban growth boundaries and the interface between areas inside and outside urban growth boundaries.


A preliminary report in the spring of 2007, announced several common themes emerging from the six working groups:


• Oregon’s land use system has protected the agriculture and forestry land base.

• Oregon’s land use system has contained sprawl.

• Oregonians are generally pleased to have a land use planning system.

• Oregon’s land use program, including the DLCD, has evolved more and more into a regulatory program.

• Many people feel that the existing program is very complex and does not have the flexibility for a changing Oregon.

• The state will face infrastructure, water and environmental challenges related to growth.

• There are lessons to be learned from other states’ growth management programs.

• Future growth will challenge ability to preserve prime agriculture and forestry lands in seven or eight counties – but not in every county.

• Many of the state’s 19 existing goals don’t fit the definition of “goals” – rather they are strategies, tactics or tools.


In June 2008, the task force released the following preliminary recommendations, premised on The Task Force’s four overarching principles for land use planning  (Providing a healthy environment;  Sustaining a prosperous economy; Ensuring a desirable quality of life; and Maintaining a program that is fair and equitable), and acknowledgment that a significant population increase is anticipated :


  1. Identify farm land, forest land, and natural areas of statewide importance, and apply market-based tools to complement regulation as a means to maintain farm and forest uses, and to protect natural areas. Local and regional governments should determine the appropriate uses of lands that are not of statewide importance, consistent with the long-term carrying capacity of the lands and considering impacts to neighboring uses.


2. Use land use planning tools in coordination with strategic investment of transportation and infrastructure funding to improve the quality of life in Oregon’s urban places, while making it possible for cities to absorb the significant population growth expected to occur.


• Prioritize funding for infrastructure to support infill development and efficient new urban areas;

• Provide incentives for redevelopment of brownfields;

• Provide more predictability, through the designation of urban and rural reserves;

• Allow contingency planning to allow urban growth management to adapt to a range of futures and/or unforeseen events; and

• Provide for more “safe harbors” to simplify local land use planning.



3. Realign the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission to carry out long-range land use planning for the state, and give the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development the resources to facilitate and assist regional collaboration and local planning efforts.


• Audit state statutes and rules for performance to reduce complexity, and to restore flexibility;

• Realign LCDC to coordinate long-range land use planning for the state;

• Build state resources to support local and regional planning, including a GIS library; and

• Encourage collaborative regional planning that allows contiguous cities and counties to work collaboratively to meet statewide goals.


4. Plan for and anticipate economic growth (e.g., increased trade-sectors, green industries, and high-tech clusters) using both already available tools for economic development and a new “rapid response” process to respond to new economic opportunities.


5. Establish expectations for how community design and transportation affects reduction of greenhouse gases from all sources, including transportation sources. As part of this, the state should set targets for how land use planning can reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from transportation. Recommended benchmarks should be developed by the Global Warming Commission, with broad involvement of local entities and the public. There should be a corresponding effort to create better analytical tools to predict carbon emissions resulting from different land use and transportation alternatives.


• Ensure that infrastructure investments support compact development in urbanized areas;

• Develop tools for cities and counties to evaluate the “climate impact” of proposed UGB expansions and other land use actions;

• Collect and disseminate “best practices” for using land use planning tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;

• Provide technical assistance to local and regional governments to carry out these best practices; and

• Help communities plan for climate change.


 The reports and information on the Big Look Task Force are available at:


Thanks to Ed Sullivan, Esq. of Garvey Shubert Barer for sending along this report.


 For a paper on smart growth that looks at what other states are doing, see:






  1. 1. Where does this issue stand three years on?

    2. In our land use class at the Univ. of New Mexico School of Law, we have learned about state planning systems and in particular those of Hawai’i and Vermont. In Hawai’i, it can often take many years (10+) to complete a project because of the restrictions of state planning. Is this a problem in Oregon? Could this become a problem in the future? If not, why?

    3. In 2008, the Oregon Task Force on Land Use Planning recommended using “market-based tools” in planning. Will this consider the non-use of land as well (i.e. non-anthropocentric use)? Often market-based approaches neglect or ignore non-use values. Does the Oregon model take this into consideration?

    • I will let this post to see whether lawyers and planners in Oregon want to answer your question. Since I don’t practice law there, I can’t answer this.

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