Can You Build on Forestry Land in Oregon?

Oregon has over 30 million acres of forested land, much of which is managed for timber production. If you own or are looking to purchase forestry land in Oregon, you may be wondering if you can build a home or other structures on the property. Here is a comprehensive guide on what you need to know about building on forestry land in Oregon.

Zoning and Land Use Regulations

The first thing to understand when looking to build on forestry land is the zoning and land use regulations that apply to the property.

Rural Residential Zones

Some forestry land, especially in more rural areas, may be zoned for rural residential use. This zoning allows for single-family homes to be built while still conserving the rural nature and forest resource uses of the land. If the property you own or want to purchase is zoned for rural residential use, obtaining a building permit for a home should be straightforward.

Forestry Zones

However, most designated forestry land in Oregon is zoned under one of several different forestry zones, such as Forest Conservation (FC), Mixed Farm and Forest Conservation (MF-FC), or Primary Forest (PF). These zones are intended to conserve forest resources and generally have stricter regulations around the types of buildings allowed.In particular, dwellings unrelated to forestry uses are typically prohibited on land zoned MF-FC or PF. However, there are a few exceptions that allow for certain residential buildings even within forestry zones, which will be covered in the sections below.

Dwellings Related to Forestry Use

Even on land zoned for forestry uses, certain types of dwellings related to managing the forest land can often be built, including:

Forest Manager Residence

If the parcel is being managed for timber production, a residence can be built for the manager of that forest operation. Proper documentation must be submitted demonstrating that the dwelling will be used in conjunction with timber management.

Relative Farm/Forest Dwelling

In some cases, a single-family dwelling may be built on a forestry parcel for a relative that will aid substantially in the management of the farm or forest operation. Stringent requirements must be met in order to qualify for this type of exception.Proper permitting and approval is still required for these forestry-related dwellings, but they can provide options for building homes on forest land.

Lot of Record Dwelling

Another pathway for allowing a dwelling on a forestry parcel is to establish a “lot of record” that is essentially carved out from the larger forest land base. To qualify as a lot of record for a new home, the parcel must have been acquired and owned continuously since prior to January 1, 1985.Additionally, the lot of record must meet minimum size requirements based on the type of water supply (well, public water system, etc.) and sewage disposal planned.

If you can meet these conditions, a single-family dwelling may be built on the established lot of record despite the overall forestry zoning. It is advisable to consult with county planning offices to determine if a parcel qualifies as a lot of record eligible for a dwelling.

Large Ownership Dwellings

For very large ownerships (5,000+ acres), Oregon’s land use laws also allow up to three additional single-family dwellings to be built on the forestry land. However, these dwellings cannot later be partitioned off into separate ownerships. Similar to other allowances in forestry zones, application must be made to the county for review and approval prior to development.

Land Divisions and Partitions

Outside of the lot of record pathway described above, partitioning or subdividing land zoned for forestry is typically not allowed. However, an exception exists for smaller parcels under 11 acres in Western Oregon or 21 acres in Eastern Oregon. These small forest parcels may be divided to create new parcels down to minimum sizes of 5 and 10 acres respectively in Western vs. Eastern Oregon.

Applications for these land divisions require county approval and must demonstrate that the parcels are still suitable for continued forest use. Additionally, some counties require that new parcels include potential homesite locations that meet county standards and fire safety codes. Consulting your county planning office early in the process for any potential land divisions is advisable.

Tips for Building on Forestry Land

If your goal is to build a home on forest land in Oregon, here are some key tips to guide the process:

Understand Allowed Uses

Carefully determine what uses and structures are allowed under the specific zoning and land use regulations that apply to a property you want to build on. Being aware of any limitations or exception pathways from the start makes the process smoother.

Research Parcel History

Determine how long a property has been under common ownership and whether there is potential to establish a lot of record eligible for a dwelling. Review property records back to at least 1985 to see if a parcel meets this test.

Consider Large Ownerships

If feasible, acquiring a very large forest ownership (5,000+ acres) provides flexibility for additional dwellings under Oregon law. These can serve as home sites without needing to partition land.

Meet Relative Farm/Forest Tests

For owners focused on active management of their forest land, building a residence for a relative assisting with operations may be allowed. Ensure you can document and meet all requirements for this exception.

Site Improvements

Any development must meet standards for road access, water supply, sewage disposal, fire safety, etc. Account for the costs of infrastructure improvements when planning builds on rural land.

With proper planning and working within the established land use regulations, building a residence on private forest land in Oregon can be achieved. Key is researching the zoning and history of a parcel at the outset to understand pathways to allowable dwellings. Consulting county planning offices for guidance is also advised.

Common Questions around Building on Forestry Land

Some frequent questions arise around what types of structures beyond homes can or cannot be built on regulated forest land. Here are answers to some of the most common inquiries.

Can I build a garage on forest land?

Yes, so long as a dwelling is also already legally established on the parcel, constructing a garage or other accessory building related to the residence is typically permitted. Any structures must meet location and setback requirements, fire safety codes, etc.

Are guest houses, mother-in-law suites allowed?

Sometimes, if already permitted a primary dwelling and meeting other conditional tests around occupancy, tenure, etc. Applications for these types of accessory dwellings often require additional county approvals.

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