A firestorm is flaring up in Wallowa County, and no I don't mean another preventable forest fire like the ones ravaging hundreds of thousands of acres in Oregon. This time around it is Planning Director Bill Oliver's attempt at imposing his standards on what is appropriate behavior for the owners of Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) land. Mr. Oliver has decided that we should all be so fortunate as to be force fed his ideas on where and what we can build on our private property.
The issue this time is that Mr. Oliver would like to "plan" away with any construction that is not visually subordinate anywhere in the county. He would like to insult us all further by telling us what style dwelling we can build and even what material it is made of and what color it can be. By proposing this our planning director is showing us his true colors. Mr. Oliver honestly believes that we as thinking, productive citizens can not be trusted to make our own decisions and live with their consequences. But after all, that is what his job is. If a planning director isn't dreaming up new ways to control land owners then he is really rather useless. By keeping any economic development from the working people of Wallowa County he insures his own.
As a planner Mr. Oliver is aligned with a long-standing liberal movement in Oregon to take away basic freedoms and put a death nail in the coffin of rural America. In a related story in the Aug. 20 edition of the Observer this position is overtly stated, "Since 1977, a state goal has been for the general population to live in towns and for only resource producers to occupy the lands outside of towns." It takes a minute for the audacity of that statement to sink in. It is hard to reconcile this directive with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How can both be agendas of our government when one precludes the other? The answer is that Bill Oliver and his ilk are not concerned about our liberty or pursuit of happiness. In fact, because we can not be trusted with our own freedoms we have him to thank for saving us from ourselves.
Oliver's concept to enforce visual subordination is hypocritical folly. Considering that depending on one's perspective and direction every building interrupts the skyline and view I am sure he would like to make that arbitrary decision on a case by case basis. Large portions of both Enterprise and Joseph are ridge top developments that are not visually subordinate. But of course that's all right because towns fit into the master plan and must therefor be exempt. And speaking of ridge top developments, has anyone been to Portland lately? The entire skyline is man made. But again that's OK because we will have to build apartment complexes somewhere when we are all forced to vacate Eastern Oregon and move to the Willamette Valley. Then the morning side of the Cascades can be off limits where we only vacation and are careful not to step off of improved trails. It will be the ultimate "goal" of Oregon land use planning, no telephones, no motors cars not a single luxury.
I dread the dark future day when Planning Director Oliver's vision comes to fruition. Imagine if you have the gall to request a zone change or a building permit. You will be forced into the basement dungeon of the courthouse and bow down before the supreme decider, Bill Oliver. Then you will make your case and beg that he grant you an approval to develop the land that you pay taxes on. But there will really be no hope. All factors are subjective and completely at his discretion. The conversation may go something like this, "Is your piece at least 160 acres? Could it be used as farm ground? No, too rocky and steep? Well you could still raise chickens. You aren't planning on building a trophy home are you? We all know you only want to look down condescendingly on your serf neighbors. Application denied!"
That sound you hear is the door slamming shut on our way of life. I know these are strong words but the whole business insults me. While Oliver calls this plan his, "Little contribution to the skyline of Wallowa County," it is in fact just the latest front in a larger war. The definition of fascism is a political system where industry and property are owned privately but strictly controlled by a strong central government where opposition is rigorously suppressed. This issue is a perfect example of when the left pushes for a little more socialism and a little less capitalism they really mean fascism. The agenda is being forwarded calmly and quietly but there can be no mistake about the intended outcome. This time the planners want to move us all like good cattle off of the open range of freedom and into the fascist corrals of oppression. Who knows what it will be next time? While I am optimistic that rational thinking will prevail, I am not at all convinced of the ultimate outcome. But at least let it be said that I did not go quietly into that dark pen.
I am writing in response to the recent article about building restrictions on Wallowa County land zoned Exclusive Farm Use (EFU). Bill Oliver, the Wallowa County planning director, has expressed his opinion in articles in both The Wallowa County Chieftain and The Observer opposing property owner's rights to build on their own land zoned EFU, without added restrictions. Mr. Oliver opposes "hilltop structures" where people can "look down on everyone else," insinuating that owners of properties with a view downward on to a valley are undesirable snobs that build detestable "trophy" homes.
This concept of restricting development where a structure would have a view from a higher elevation is an idea called "visual subordination." The impact of such restriction allows people on properties lower in elevation to build homes with an upward view, but limits or prevents building on properties of higher elevation with a downward view. The effect is that land of higher elevation is less desirable and of less value than land with a lower elevation. Sound constitutional or fair? Why is Mr. Oliver, a county employee, attacking landowners based on the terrain of the land the citizen owns?
Mr. Oliver is also a proponent of another idea called "economic viability." That idea is evident in the article in The Observer (08-20-02), in the following statement: "Since 1977 the state goal has been for the general population to live in towns and for only resource producers to occupy lands outside of towns." Were you aware that "the state" wanted to push non-agricultural producing citizens inside the city limits, and not allow you to live on your own land outside the city limits? Or is this a "county" idea? The economic viability idea may require you to file a copy of your income tax return with "the county" to prove you made an acceptable income from your property by percentage or total dollar amount compared to your total income, before you can build on your property. And what if illness, crop or livestock losses, or some other misfortune for the year puts you below the state or county acceptable minimum? You may lose your right to build on and/or occupy your own land, or face paying higher taxes as your land is rezoned.
Do you think this is far fetched? Sadly, these restrictions are the goals of the Wallowa County planning director and some of the planning commissioners. In many places in the west and some in Oregon, some of these restrictions already exist. Building restrictions in Wallowa County in the future may include: visual subordination, economic viability, an access road wide enough and engineered for fire truck turn-around, county approved paint and roof color charts for houses, tree committee approval required to trim your trees, approved types of fencing for yards, no building on rocky out crops where the site affords a valley view and the soil is unsuitable for growing, restricted placement of garbage cans on your property, limiting the visibility and number of recreational vehicles on your property, subterranean home construction - and the list goes on. Some of your planning commissioners are already talking about these restrictions!
Some of these issues may be more palatable and understandable in congested cities where lot size is so small and neighbors are so close that some limits and restrictions are necessary. But Mr. Oliver is attacking property rights of EFU landowners, who own the larger pieces of land. In most of the state, 80 acres of EFU is required for building. In Wallowa County, double that size, or 160 acres is required, unless the land is subject to a non-farm partition. Mr. Oliver and his cohorts, if left unchecked, would further restrict all EFU landowners, regardless of the size of their property, to visual subordination, economic viability and more restrictions. In the future you may have to hire an architect and an attorney, and pay endless fees, while attempting to obtain approval from endless committees and commissions for permits to build on your own land. The whole process could become nearly impossible, and obtainable only to the wealthiest citizens.
Be warned! Look at the restrictions that exist at Wallowa Lake and the Columbia River Gorge. Many of these restrictions are already here, and more are coming! But, should they come to EFU land in Wallowa County? Although Mr. Oliver recently created his own non-farm partition and lives in his own "trophy home" on 32 acres he doesn't want you to build on and use your own 160, 300 or 1300 acres, without his new restrictions that may make your property un-buildable. And why are the county commissioners allowing this activity?
As a citizen and EFU landowner who is trying to live the American dream in Wallowa County, I oppose the government, whether state or local, telling me where to live, and that I can't live and build on my own land. As a retired police officer with 25 years experience in two different states, I know that government powers left unchecked lead to abuses that erode the rights of citizens. Once rights are lost they are rarely regained. "The county" should not be able to limit my life by restricting my attempts at economic gain that are limited only by my family's own creativity and hard work. "The county" should not be the death of "the American dream."
Hats off to the Enterprise Merchants Association for providing and maintaining the absolutely gorgeous hanging baskets in the Enterprise downtown area and the patriotic gazebo area on the courthouse lawn. Have you noticed how exceptionally lovely the baskets have been this year?
The young man (and other people) in charge of watering have done an excellent job. We do not know all the individuals who are responsible for this project. We just want to express our thanks.
The fruits of their efforts have been noticed and enjoyed by locals and tourists as well all summer. Also, a big thanks to the numerous store owners who have graced their business fronts with very colorful, attractive, and varied seasonal flowers.
You can be proud of the enhanced beautification your efforts have created in the business areas of Enterprise. This town is definitely an attractive place to live in and travel through with many pluses in our community. the extra efforts of businesses and homeowners make it that much more pleasant indeed!
Charleen and Chuck Haines
To set the record straight, I was quoted out of context in The Chieftain and Observer. The quote implied that I was against any new development in rural zones of Wallowa County. Not so. What I told the reporter who interviewed me over the phone was: "People move in here and think they have found Shangra La," and he failed to print the rest of my sentence which was: "and then they want to keep everyone else from coming here, especially if the newcomers are wealthy and want to build million dollar homes."
I have always been pro-property rights, even though for selfish and personal reasons I would rather see Wallowa County retain its cowboy culture forever. But change is inevitable, and the public has every right to have a say in what changes are good and which ones are detrimental to the quality of life we all want to preserve. That is why we need to debate the land development issues in an open forum, providing it can be done in a civil manner. there are good arguments to be made on both sides, so there is no reason that reasonable people can't disagree without name-calling or histrionics.
Another thing I hate to see is for this debate to evolved into a class warfare scenario of poor vs. rich. The other thing I told the Associated Press reporter was that I do not have a bias against wealth. But in my opinion there are quite a few people who do.
As for the individual who wrote the editorial saying these newcomers who want to build "trophy homes" on ridgetops will be contributing nothing to the economy of our county. He is just plain wrong. Who does he think will build those high priced homes ... the elves? there will be lots of ground preparation as well as a need for carpenters, plumbers, electricians, well drillers, surveyors and fence builders. These homes will need appliances, furniture, concrete, lumber, paint and gravel. These newcomers will be bringing in money, perhaps from California, to spend here locally as it will be impractical to import all those things from whever they came from.
And when all of this construction is over they will have a visit from the county assessor who will come to eagerly welcome them to our underfunded tax rolls. Since they won't be eligible for farm-deferral they will certainly be contributing to our economy in a big way.
All of this, and what will we as citizens be losing? Yes, the viewshed will be forever altered. There will now be someone's castle where once there was only scabrock. Sure, they will have the best view of the Wallowa Mountains, but almost all of us have that alreaady, and nobody can take it away. So what's the problem?
E.H. Van Blaricom