this is not a dwelling…

A quick check of this property’s portlandmaps description might lead one to believe that Multnomah County considers this building to be a 1,544 square foot home with one bath that was built in 1906. However, it’s not an existing dwelling for purposes of Multnomah County’s “template test,” according to an Oregon Court of Appeals decision issued today.

The case illustrates some of the unintuitive complexities that can grow into expensive frustrations for landowners who seek to build in rural Multnomah County. For example, state and county rules are different for the most productive Douglas Fir timberland, like the land at issue in today’s case. The applicable Oregon rule, OAR 660-006-0027(3)(c)(B), states that counties may allow a landowner in a forest zone to build a house on less than a 160-acre parcel when there currently exist three dwellings in an imaginary 160-acre square “template” centered on the landowner’s lot. In contrast, Multnomah County’s rule, MCC 33.2240(A)(3)(c), requires five existing dwellings in that 160-acre square. The structure pictured above did not constitute the fifth required existing dwelling, the court decided, so the county was allowed to deny the landowners’ building permit.

The policy, apparently, is to preserve viable logging potential in Multnomah County forests by discouraging home construction in historically productive timberland. I wonder how long there will be political support for this policy. In the meantime, the subtle wording difference between complicated state and local law strikes me as a tricky distinction that invites controversy.

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