PLANNERS NIX HOUSE ON WINTER RANGE

May 23, 2001 12:00 am

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The Union County Planning Commission has turned down a second request for a home in the wildlife winter range on Mount Harris above Cove.

Gene and Patricia Botham applied for permission to build a house on the 160-acre property. During the planning commissions meeting Monday, the Bothams agent, Enterprise attorney Rahn Hostetter, said the Bothams had redesigned the site plan to put the house as close as possible to a county road and another house.

About three years ago, the Bothams were given permission by the county commissioners to build a house on the property, provided they did not occupy the building from December through March, the time when deer and elk are feeding in the area. At that time, the Bothams were told to reapply and address the winter range issue.

Hostetter said the change was basically simple, putting the house at the edge of the property.

But planning commission members said the Bothams did not fully address the impact on wildlife, the economy and the social fabric of the area. The commission voted unanimously to deny the request.

The Bothams have the right to appeal the planners decision to the Union County commissioners.

Jim Cadwell of the La Grande office of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said Monday that his agency had not received a written proposal since the site plan change. ODFW is the state agency responsible for protecting wildlife.

Certain areas in Union County are considered critical winter habitat, and county land use ordinances are strict about protection of the wildlife range.

Whenever a house is planned for a wildlife area, the conditions of the wildlife habitat must be a major consideration in any decision to approve a house, according to ordinances and the ODFW.

Cadwell asked for a continuance of the planning commission hearing, but commission members ruled for denial, citing insufficient information about the proposal.

Cadwell said during an interview Tuesday that ODFWs primary criteria for a house in critical wildlife habitat is that it stand within 280 feet of a public road or another occupied residence.

Between 20 and 50 requests are considered each year for homes in wildlife ranges, he said.

The majority fall within that criteria, Cadwell said. Most people dont want to plow long driveways, and it is more expensive to run utilities farther from the road.

Cadwell said most requests are decided within a week.

Despite the regulations governing housing in wildlife win- ter range, the size of the range is declining countywide, he said.

As the human population increases, we will lose winter range, he said. The more that development can be centralized (next to roads and houses), the slower that loss will be.