As Odell grows, a boundary is drawn

Three areas are being considered for inclusion in the Odell unincorporated community boundary. The purple, green, and blue lines in this aerial photo represent the three areas currently under consideration.

Hood River County Community Development
Three areas are being considered for inclusion in the Odell unincorporated community boundary. The purple, green, and blue lines in this aerial photo represent the three areas currently under consideration.

Hood River may get a lot of attention, but the unincorporated community of Odell is also a happening place.

Though it is not an incorporated city like Hood River, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Odell has 2,225 residents — twice as many as Cascade Locks, which is the only other incorporated city in Hood River County. Odell is also a relatively young community as well, with approximately a third of its population 18 years of age or younger.

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HOOD River County is looking at zoning updates to plan for the diverse growth needs in Odell, a rural community with abutting open spaces, an agricultural-based industrial complex, and residential areas.

Hood River County Community Development reports Odell also has more residential units than Cascade Locks, but currently has a vacancy rate of 0 percent. Odell, which saw its population grow by 22 percent between the 2000 and 2010 Census, is matching the growth rate of its much larger neighbor to the north, Hood River, and is exceeding the 10 percent overall growth rate of the county.

As Odell continues to grow, so does the importance of urban planning. And since the state requires Oregon counties to draw boundaries around unincorporated communities, it has tasked Hood River County with drawing one for the Odell area as well.

Hood River County Community Development Director Mike Benedict explained the rationale of the state’s requirement.

“Oregon land use law separates areas between rural an urban. “If you’re outside an urban area, then you’re rural,” he said. “The state recognized there are all these areas that are urban in nature, but are rural, so the state developed the unincorporated community boundary.”

Odell fits that definition. In addition to all the families that call Odell home, the community boasts 46 employers, including three fruit packers, and has the largest total acreage of land zoned for industrial use in the county according to Community Development’s data.

However, what Benedict says Odell does lack is workforce housing, particularly multi-family dwellings, resulting in over 83 percent of those employed at Odell businesses to live outside of the community. Benedict explained that state law allows for smaller lot sizes within the limits of unincorporated communities, and would allow landowners to split up their lots. The boundary would also codify which properties in the future are eligible to connect to the Odell sewer system, allowing service providers to plan for future demand.

The county made efforts to establish the boundary system back in the mid-2000s, but the project was eventually moved to the back burner. According to an August 2005 story published in the News, some Odell residents opposed the plan, worried that the mid valley would become over-developed and lose its rural qualities.

Others, particularly orchard owners, may balk at the fact that some land zoned exclusive farm use in Odell will wind up within the boundary and would have to be rezoned as the state does not allow EFU land to exist inside an unincorporated community. The county is considering three boundaries, the largest of which comprises 1,377 acres and the entire Odell Sanitation District (the sewer district), but would also include 816 acres currently zoned EFU.

On the other hand, the largest boundary would also allow orchardists to more freely develop their land, and provide more labor for the packing houses where many orchardists send their fruit. The point is probably moot, though, as Benedict said the largest boundary option would likely be met with disapproval as the state does not allow much “resource land” to be brought into the boundary without going through an exceptions process.

No decision has been made yet on which option will be sent to the state for approval and the county is still seeking public input on the process. A public meeting on the boundaries was held in Odell last month and drew 60 people and the county reports at least one more public meeting on the subject is planned.

Those who wish to submit comments on the different boundary options have until Feb. 14 to do so. Benedict reported that the county will later submit the selected boundary to the state Land Conservation and Development Commission for final approval.

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