Of the Baker City Herald

Baker City's future might include fewer moos.

And oinks.

And neighs.

As officials ponder a proposed overhaul of the city's zoning ordinance, standing conspicuous amid the predictable urban matters of building sizes and subdivisions is a rusticly rural issue:


Cows and pigs and horses.

And specifically, cows and pigs and horses that live within the city limits.

It's not a problem familiar to planners in Portland, where a horse in the neighborhood brings TV crews at full gallop.

But in Baker City the sight of a heifer cropping grass a few feet from a busy thoroughfare, or of a horse nuzzling a fence post next to a school, ranks as routine.

City officials are not proposing to banish those animals to a more bucolic setting beyond the urban growth boundary.

But they are suggesting the city limit the size of its herds.

Now, the city's animal ordinance regulates only where residents can pasture animals such as cows, horses, sheep, goats and pigs. Generally, though not everywhere, the boundary follows the railroad tracks with large animals allowed south and west of the tracks but not elsewhere.

The city does not regulate the number of animals owners can pasture on their properties, nor does the city ordinance require lots be of a certain size to harbor livestock.

But the planning commission has proposed to change that.

The commission's proposal prohibits residents from keeping large animals on lots smaller than one acre, and limits herds to no more than two adult animals (six months or older) per acre.

The ordinance, even if approved by both the commission and the City Council, would not be retroactive, however residents who already keep animals on properties smaller than an acre, or who pasture more than two adult livestock per acre, would not have to move or pare their herds.

But property owners who don't have livestock now, or whose pastures remain empty for more than six months in a row, would have to comply with the new ordinance, said Alan Blair, chairman of the planning commission.

Blair emphasized that the commission does not want to empty the city of livestock.

The commission's goal, he said, is to prevent residents from shoehorning big herds onto small lots.

Blair acknowledged, however, that the city can't afford to stringently enforce its large animal ordinance.

andquot;There's no zoning cops out there,andquot; he said. andquot;Usually the city only responds to complaints.andquot;

The existing ordinance does authorize the city to cite property owners whose animals create a andquot;nuisanceandquot; although Blair admits there's no universal definition for that word.

Every year the city fields complaints about livestock, most during spring and summer, when pastures tend to be particularly aromatic.

The livestock issue is one of several proposed zoning changes the planning commission will solicit public comments about during a public hearing later this month.

The hearing is set for July 16 at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1655 First St.

Oregon law requires cities to periodically review their zoning ordinances.

The planning commission's decision is a recommendation only the City Council has the final say on the matter.

Because the proposed ordinance changes could potentially affect how property owners can use their land, the city was required, per a state law Oregon voters passed a few years ago, to mail a notice of the hearing to every property owner inside the city limits.

The total 3,912 letters.

The total cost $1,005, of which $973 went for postage (the rest was for paper).

Other proposed zoning changes include:


Multi-family housing

The planning commission has proposed to allow multi-family dwellings, including apartments, in low-density residential zones, provided the developer obtains a conditional-use permit.

Now, multi-family dwellings (ones with three or more units on a lot) are prohibited in low-density zones, allowed in medium-density with a conditional-use permit, and allowed outright in high-density zones.

Building separation

Buildings on the same lot would have to be at least eight feet apart.

As with the large animal ordinance, this change would not be retroactive if your lot has buildings closer than eight feet, you don't have to jack one up and move it.

This change probably would not affect a large number of property owners, Blair said, because the commission also suggests the city measure the distance between buildings from the walls rather than from the eaves, as is done now.

Accessory structures

The planning commission's proposal would limit these buildings, including garages and shops, to 14 feet in height.

There is no limit now.

Again, the change would not be retroactive, so owners of tall shops would not have whip out a saw and start trimming.

And Blair said the 14-foot figure is not for the highest point on a building. Rather, it denotes the average height between the building's eaves and the highest point on the roof.

Small subdivisions

Now, the planning commission must approve all subdivisions.

But the commission suggests the city allow its planning department to approve subdivisions with six or fewer lots.

Developers would still have to fill out the same forms and pay the same fees, but they would not have to wait for the planning commission to convene and discuss the proposal.

Single-wide mobile homes

Homes placed on a lot would have to be 1990 or newer models.

However, residents who live in pre-1990 single-wide homes would not have to move the structures.

'Footprint' of all buildings as percentage of lot area

The city has no such limits now, so in theory a property owner could place a building on every square foot of a residential lot.

The planning commission recommends the city limit the square footage of buildings to 60 percent of the lot size.

In other words, a 7,500-square-foot lot could have no more than 4,500 square feet in buildings, including dwellings and accessory structures.


Automotive businesses

Auto-related businesses, such as car dealerships, would be allowed in the central-commercial zone, with a conditional-use permit.

Such businesses are not allowed now in that zone, which encompasses most of the downtown district.