FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Staff has created frequently asked questions and basic answers about land use planning in Wasco County.  We encourage you to explore our online resources, including the GIS Web Map and Land Use and Development Ordinances, and call (541-506-2560) or email us (wcplanning@co.wasco.or.us) with your questions.  We are open to the public Monday through Friday, 10 AM until 4 PM. 

For more complicated questions, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with staff and provide us with information in advance so we can be prepared to give you clear and thorough assistance.  We can also sometimes accommodate meetings outside our regular business hours.

Land Use and Zoning Related Questions
What is my zoning?
To find the zoning of a property, you can use the Online GIS Web map tool and search by property address, legal description, owner name or account number. Click on this link to view the Wasco County online map tool. Zoom into your property and use the data layers to find your zoning and more.  For a tutorial, please see this document.
What uses are allowed in the zone where my property is located?
Zoning chapters in the Wasco County and National Scenic Area Land Use and Development Ordinances (LUDO) organize allowed uses into four categories:
  • Uses Permitted without Review (sometimes referred to as uses allowed outright)
  • Uses Permitted Subject to Type I (or ministerial) review
  • Uses Subject to Standards/Type II (or administrative) review
  • Uses Permitted Subject to Conditional Use Review/Type II (administrative) or Type III (quasi-judicial)
These sections and their allowed uses are located at the beginning of each zone chapter.  Please call and speak to Planning staff with specific questions and to learn about the process.
What is a lawfully established (or legal) dwelling and why is it important?
In order to alter, restore, relocate, or replace a dwelling on resource lands it must first be determined to be lawfully established.  A lawfully established dwelling is a single family dwelling which:

  • Has intact exterior walls and roof structure
  • Has indoor plumbing consisting of a kitchen sink, toilet, and bathing facilities connected to a sanitary waste disposal system
  • Has interior wiring for interior lights; and
  • Has a heating system

Dwellings that can be proved to  exist prior to September 4, 1974 are "grandfathered" as lawfully placed.  Planning approvals, building permits and septic permits can help establish if and when a dwelling was lawfully established.

What is a lawfully created parcel (legal parcel) and why is this distinction important?
A legal parcel is a unit of land that was created, according to state law, through a legally established process. Determining whether a parcel was lawfully created is the first, and often most important, question Planning Department staff researches when we receive a land use application.  Staff has created a handout to explain why legal parcels are important, how legal parcels are defined, and what is not a legal parcel.  You can download or view the handout by clicking here.

What is an accessory structure? Is there a size limit for my barn/detached garage/shop? How many can I have?
Commonly referred to as shops, detached garages, storage sheds, pole barns and RV covers, the Wasco County Land Use and Development Ordinance (LUDO) defines accessory structures as: "A detached structure, its footprint being less than 3/4 of the primary structure's footprint, the use of which is customarily incidental to that of the primary structure or the primary use of the land, and which is located on the same lot-of-record with the primary structure or use. Accessory structures shall not include agricultural exempt buildings." In other words, you may have a detached structure for secondary uses provided that you a). have a primary use in place (often a dwelling) and b). it is limited in size to 75% of the footprint of the primary structure. In most cases there is not a limit to the number of accessory structure, but it must meet property development standards including height restrictions and setbacks.


The type of review for the accessory structure depends on the zone and other criteria, so for the process to permit your accessory structure please refer to the appropriate zone in the LUDO and call Planning staff for specific questions and to obtain application information.

Does my building qualify as an agricultural exempt structure? What is the difference between an accessory structure and an agricultural structure?
Your accessory structure may qualify as an agricultural structure if you are commercially farming. Accessory structures require a primary use, and have some special development restrictions whereas agricultural structures often can be built without a primary structure, because the crop production or farm activity is considered the primary use. Agricultural exempt buildings are not exempt from land use permits, certain building permits and taxes. Typically, they are only exempt from structural building permits and inspections.


To qualify for an agricultural exempt structure, you will need to demonstrate that the structure will be located on a farm and used exclusively for farm related purposes.  This can include:
  1. Storage, maintenance or repair of farm machinery and equipment
  2. The raising, harvesting and selling of crops
  3. The feeding, breeding, management and sale of, or the produce of, livestock, poultry, furbearing animals or honeybees
  4. Dairying and the sale of dairy products; or
  5. Any other agricultural or horticultural use or animal husbandry, or any combination thereof, including the preparation and storage of the produce raised on the farm for human use and animal use and disposal by marketing or otherwise.
This definition is taken directly from state law (ORS 455.315).

Your application must include evidence to demonstrate the proposed structure meets the state definition as well as a verified farm management plan that details the commercial farm activity.  You will also need to demonstrate that the parcel where development is proposed was lawfully created, submit a site plan showing the structure can and will meet property development standards, obtain a road approach permit and sanitation approval (if applicable), submit a signed floor plan of the Farm Agricultural Building which relates to the farm management plan, and file a Restrictive Covenant for the agricultural use of the structure at the Wasco County Clerk's Office.
What are setbacks, where do I find mine and why do I have to meet them?
Setbacks are the distances between a structure and the road, waterway, property line or other feature. Each zone in the county has different setback requirements, and these are listed in the Land Use and Development Ordinance under each zone in the Property Development Standards section.


Setbacks are meant to help protect environmentally sensitive areas, rights of adjacent property owners and to provide buffers between potentially conflicting uses (i.e. working farms and non-farm residences).
Can I run a business out of my home?
In most cases, running a business out of your home can be permitted. Planners refer to this as a home occupation, and there are different permitting processes depending on your properties' zone and whether it is a minor or major home occupation. Generally, minor home occupations are the type of home businesses with minimal impact to your neighbors. These might include online services or home offices that do not have customers or deliveries/pick ups coming to and from the house.


A major home occupation has more impact to neighbors, including noise, traffic, or signage.  These might be businesses like services or retail where customers or others come to the home.  This might also include businesses that have more than one employee or storage of equipment or products on site.

To get started, check your zone with the GIS Web Map Tool and then refer to the LUDO (either National Scenic Area or Wasco County, depending on your zone) to check for uses permitted in your zone.  You can also read about the differences between minor and major home occupations in the LUDO.  Please call and speak to Planning staff for detailed information or with your questions.

I live in The Dalles, can you help?
The Wasco County Planning Department only regulates unincorporated places in Wasco County.  For planning matters in The City of The Dalles, please contact their planning department


Application Process and Administrative Questions
What does the Planning Department do with my land use application? What are the timelines to review the application?
After an application and the appropriate fees are submitted, your application is assigned to a planner based on their caseload. Once the application is submitted, staff has 30 days to determine that all required information has been submitted. This is called a completeness review. If the application is deemed incomplete, staff will send the applicant a letter requesting the missing material or information.


Staff also typically conducts a site visit within this time period to review property conditions and proposed development site.


Per state law, once it is determined than an application is complete, the Planning Department has 150 days to make a decision. This includes verification that the parcel was lawfully created and researching other history about the property. Some of our applications require staff to notice partner agencies and impacted property owners, within a specific distance, of the proposed development to allow them time to comment.


Once a planner has gathered all the necessary information, staff will write a staff report addressing all criteria within state law and the Land Use and Development Ordinance by drafting findings and conclusions about whether the application meets criteria, and falls within what is permitted by law. In some cases, staff will need to "condition" the approval to ensure the development or activity can comply with local, state or federal regulation. Following a complete and reviewed staff report, the Planning Department will issue a Notice of Decision and notify property owners and impacted agencies. Those receiving notice have 12 days to submit an appeal to the proposed decision. In the National Scenic Area, the appeal period is 15 days.


Many ministerial (or Type I) decisions can be processed by staff in two weeks. These decisions do not require notification or a staff report. Administrative (Type II) decisions, which include the notification process and a staff report typically take three months to complete. National Scenic Area applications can take four to five months, because of additional criteria and evaluations from agency partners.


Quasi-judicial (Type III) decisions that require a public hearing will typically take longer, as they require some additional noticing periods and coordination, scheduling and preparation for a public hearing.


We recommend working directly with staff to ensure your application is complete before you submit it. We also strongly recommend you ensure complete applications by carefully and thoroughly reading and reviewing it. We also recommend you allow yourself several months before you need to start your project/development to submit your application as we are often the first step in the process that may include Building Codes Services, Health Department, or other permits.
I received a Notice of Decision about my application. Now what?
Staff has created a handout you can download or read about the notice of decision and what you need to look for.  You can view that here.

The land use decision becomes final if no appeals are filed within the appeal period.  Once the decision becomes final, conditions need to be met within the time frame set forth in the approval.  Conditions of approval are recorded by staff with the Wasco County Clerk prior to applying for any building permits.  Typically, these conditions include tasks that you need to complete in order to finalize your permit.  

How long is my permit good for?
The length of time a permit is valid can vary with the type of application.  Most applications expire two (2) years after the date the land use approval was granted.  


A land use approval will become invalid if development has not started within two (2) years of the date of approval; and if the use approved is discontinued for any reason for one (1) continuous year or more.   Your notice of decision will typically include the expiration date of your permit.  For tips on how to understand your notice of decision, please see our handout here
What is the difference between the Planning Department and Planning Commission?
The Planning Commission is the hearings body for several types of land use decisions that cannot be made at the administrative level, most of which are quasi-judicial in nature. The Planning Commission also hears legislative requests to make recommendations for the Board’s consideration and final decision. Additionally, the Planning Commission serves as the community advisory team for long range planning projects and policy level discussions. Click here to view active long range planning projects. Click here to view the bylaws of the Planning Commission. Current members of the Planning Commission can be viewed on this page, in the brown box to the left. 

Planning Commissioners are volunteers strategically made up of a diverse cross-section of the community.  They are not typically professional planners, as they are meant to represent the community in much the same way a jury does.  Planning Department staff, on the other hand, are skilled professionals that work directly with applicants on inquiries, produce staff reports, and generally do the day to day work.
What other agencies/departments do I have to get permits from for my development? Who are they and when do I contact them?
Mid-Columbia Building Codes Services processes all structural permit applications. Following the approval of a land use application, the Wasco County Planning Department will sign a building permit for zoning and flood plain approval. Additional signatures will be needed from the North Central Public Health District for sanitation approval. While planning approval is required prior to getting any building permit, we advise you to talk with Building Codes (541-298-4461), North Central Public Health District (541-506-2600) and the Wasco County Planning Department (541-506-2560) as soon as possible concerning prospective projects. Each department will inform you about their requirements in the permitting process.