HERMISTON - After missing the official deadline for an appeal to the state, Umatilla County Commissioners and the county's Planning Department are still working on a way to grant several dozen landowners along Highway 395 an exemption to a state zoning law that limits building sizes to less than 35,000 square feet outside city limits.

The owners, part of the Greater Highway 395 Development Association, have acreage zoned light industrial. More than a year after banding together, they are the only business owners along the highway who have yet to get relief from the law, which was mandated by the state and adopted by the county.

The zoning reclassified areas for commercial and industrial uses outside city limits and urban growth boundaries - areas not within city limits but where city services such as water and sewer extend - as rural areas, limiting the size of the buildings.

The zoning affected more than 300 businesses countywide.

Most of the 100 businesses affected in the Hermiston area were granted an exemption to the zoning earlier this year by the state.

The state, however, left out an exemption for the light industrial areas in the north commercial district along Highway 395, saying those areas were not developed enough to be considered anything but rural.

About 567 privately-owned acres are affected. There are 57 buildings already constructed, averaging about 5,000 square feet - mostly warehouses for trucking companies, machine shops, well-drillers and agricultural supply dealers.

The county intended to appeal the state's decision last month, but missed the deadline because the appeal wasn't signed and mailed. It was, instead, faxed, and that didn't count.

"In hindsight, it might not have been a bad thing," said Tamra Mabbott, director of the county's Planning Department. "We're going to rewrite the exemption and refile it."

Mabbott said she didn't know what the timeline would be for that, but she plans to hold an informal meeting with landowners Feb. 10 in Hermiston to discuss the issue.

As for the landowners, the uncertainty continues.

Mike Arterburn, owner of A&M Supply, an agricultural supply company located near Hermiston in an area zoned light industrial, said he is in the process of adding a 10,000-square-foot addition to his 7,000- square-foot warehouse.

He has 50 acres he would like to develop and build more warehouses for lease. He said he has already invested half a million dollars. If he is unable to continue because of the rural zoning law, he said he will sue the county for compensation.

The land, he said, is only good for development.

"You can't farm it," he said. "There's no other designation for it."

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