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Land Use

Land Use

Land Use and Planning In Oregon

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The Oregon Story of Land Use. Who owns the land? Who controls it? These two questions frame the story of land use planning in Oregon. View a short multimedia story on Oregon land use planning, past and present.

Columbia Gorge

Columbia Gorge (Miles Hemstrom)


The Oregon land use planning program is widely recognized for its pioneering efforts to preserve the principle of local responsibility for land use decisions while simultaneously defining a broader public interest at the state level.  The program has matured as populations and economies have changed.  The future will bring even more change.  Models predict that by 2040, the state's population will grow by 46 percent to 5.2 million, mostly in the Willamette Valley. But one value is unlikely to change: Oregonians recognize that they have a unique and outstanding quality of life which is directly tied to the land. If this notion can been collectively articulated through the land use planning program, the quality of life in Oregon may endure to the benefit of future generations.

In 1919 the State of Oregon granted authority to cities to plan and zone; this was challenged in court and upheld as valid in 1925, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court established a national precedent for such authority.

Planning remained solely a city function until 1947, when the legislature extended similar authority to counties in response to chaotic growth of urban fringe areas during the boom years after World War II. Counties were authorized to form planning commissions which were required to develop zoning and other regulations to carry out their plans.

Some of the most notable features of our present land use program were formed early in Oregon's history. For example, Crater Lake was recognized as a unique and special treasure and President Cleveland withdrew it from homestead claims in 1885. In 1913, Governor Oswald West convinced the legislature to designate all Oregon beaches as a public highway; the law declared that from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California border, the entire beach between low and high tides would be forever open to the public. Special tax treatment for land in farm zones became effective in 1961, and by 1963 Exclusive Farm Use zones had been created to enable counties to protect good farmland.

Read more about the history of land use planning in Oregon.