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Emergency Zoning Regulations Approved For Temporary Wildfire Housing

Aerial image of destruction from the Almeda Drive Fire in Jackson County.
Jackson County
Aerial image of destruction from the Almeda Drive Fire in Jackson County.

State land-use planners made a series of emergency zoning changes on Thursday aimed at helping wildfire victims. It’s the latest step towards providing transitional housing for people displaced in this year’s wildfire disasters like the Almeda Drive Fire.

The Land Conservation and Development Commission approved a series of temporary rule changes that will allow for disaster housing on undeveloped rural lands. The code changes will apply across the state but some were made specifically with the cities of Talent and Phoenix in mind. More than 2,300 homes were destroyed in those communities and thousands of residents were displaced.

The new temporary rule changes will allow for transitional housing like RVs and trailers and temporary infrastructure to support them.

“It opens up more opportunities for investment, whether that’s private, nonprofit or federal investment, in infrastructure or residential units in more areas than would have been allowed in the first place,” said Josh LeBombard, the Southern Oregon representative for the Department of Land Conservation and Development.

The rule changes will lift housing restrictions on some lands outside city limits, in areas known as urban reserves. Transitional housing will be allowed in the urban reserves around Talent and Phoenix in an effort to keep residents from permanently leaving the area.

The changes are in effect for 180 days, with the possibility of being extended.

The emergency changes received some pushback during Thursday’s meeting. Former Jackson County planner Craig Anderson spoke on behalf of Rogue Advocates, a Southern Oregon land-use organization.

“Having been a planner and having seen temporary uses become de-facto, permanent uses, I would caution you that once someone is given an opportunity to establish a dwelling, however temporary it looks, they’re going to be very reluctant to give that up and the county is going to be reluctant to take that away from them,” Anderson said.

Ultimately, however, the commission decided the potential long-term risk was worth the short-term benefit of establishing local housing for people who were displaced.

Kaety Jacobson is an LCDC commissioner from Lincoln County where the 2,500-acre Echo Mountain Fire displaced hundreds of residents in early September.

“This is already happening. People already have RVs parked everywhere all over my community,” Jacobson said. “We need to pass this, but whether or not we pass this, it’s still going to happen and then it comes down to local jurisdictions and whether they’re going to enforce the current code they have or not.”

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.