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Story by The Associated Press
Published on Monday January 3, 2011 - 12:54 PM
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LEBANON - A plan to build a few retirement homes south of Lebanon has been stalled for a decade but now an important decision is moving the project forward.

The Linn County Board of Commissioners has ruled that the 15 acres south of town is not valuable farm or forest land.

According to the Albany Democrat-Herald, Bob Morris, 59, and his two brothers-in-law bought the land to build their retirement homes. Morris said he never thought it would take this long - and $50,000 in legal and consulting fees - to get a decision.

Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist said the case shows that Oregon's land use process is broken.

"It has taken 10 years, and I don't have any idea how it has come to this. Is it really OK that government can tell someone they can't add dwellings for family members on property that won't even grow weeds?"

The 15 acres in question is surrounded by homes. There are 27 homes within a quarter-mile of the property and 11 properties directly adjacent to it.

"I never dreamed it would take this long," Morris said.

Over the last decade, in hearings before the Linn County Planning Commission and the state's Land Use Board of Appeals, the family's efforts have been blocked primarily by the Friends of Linn County.

Jim Just, the group's president, said in an e-mail that the group has been involved with the case, and others like it, because the county's farm and forest economy lands are "precious and irreplaceable."

In 1997, Morris and his brothers-in-law, Bob Scott, 56, who now lives on the property, and Jim Scott, 64, who lives in California, purchased 10 acres about a mile south of the Lebanon city limits. They hoped to build two more homes on the property so the families could enjoy their retirement years together.

They paid $169,000, which included an existing home built in 1973 and a barn. Morris also paid $28,000 for 5 acres that adjoined the south side of the property. The owners were successful in getting a property line adjustment that brought the total to 15 acres.

Linn County also permitted two septic systems.

The family sought an exception to the state's land use planning laws aimed at protecting agricultural and forest lands.

The family has hired consultants to prove that the property's soil types are not conducive to farming or forestry.

Robert Wheeldon, Linn County's planning director, said the Friends of Linn County will have 21 days to appeal the board's latest decision once a resolution is adopted and signed by the commissioners. That probably won't occur until late January or early February.

The group probably won't appeal the ruling "despite believing that we could probably win again," Just said.