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Measure 37 changes in works

A Senate bill aims to spell out application guidelines and ease restrictions so some property owners can build on farmland
Thursday, April 07, 2005

SALEM -- The Legislature dug in Wednesday on a task that could shake up Oregon land-use laws for the second time in a year: revising Measure 37.

Many lawmakers consider the new voter-approved property rights law one of their biggest challenges this session. It has the potential to shape Oregon's landscape and their re-election prospects.

A proposed rewrite would loosen restrictions on building a single home on farmland, opening the option to people who bought their property before 1995.

The aptly numbered Senate Bill 1037 would remove those cases from the Measure 37 process. For other regulations, it would spell out a method to apply for Measure 37's promise of development rights or government payments.

The bill is a rough draft based on intense discussion among politicians and interest groups. Some of the most significant -- and controversial -- ideas were not in the formal version introduced Wednesday in the Senate Environment and Land Use Committee.

Potential changes in the bill would split farmland into three categories: high-value land ineligible for Measure 37 claims, mid-grade land eligible for claims after a two-year moratorium while legislators create a payment system, and low-grade land opened to rural development such as two-acre home sites and country stores.

Describing the proposal as a work in progress, Sen. Charlie Ringo, D-Beaverton, said he hopes to preserve the best parts of Oregon's planning system while recognizing voters' frustration.

"The question at end of the day is, 'Is the bill we have better than no bill?' " said Ringo, the bill's sponsor and chairman of the land-use committee. "We're going to have to wait and see what bill we have."

Ringo, who opposed Measure 37, is balancing a delicate political situation.

Since it passed with 61 percent approval in November, the measure has spawned more than 500 claims filed with cities, counties and state agencies. To qualify, property owners must prove their ownership predated a rule that has diminished their land value.

While many claimants want to build a single home or split land for their children, others have incited neighbors with blueprints for subdivisions or commercial development. The claims process varies from one jurisdiction to the next, meaning some applicants have received rule waivers while others are barely in the pipeline.

As it stands, SB1037 would require Measure 37 claimants to submit ownership information, a list of restrictions that reduce land value, a description of how the property would be used with a waiver and, in most cases, an appraisal. Applicants would have to pay a "reasonable" processing fee, which the measure currently allows them to opt out of.

But the bill and amendments don't address two hotly contested issues: whether new development rights transfer when the land is sold, and whether to set up a compensation system. No money is available for payments.

Ringo said discussions on both issues are in the works. Finding money could be especially prickly, with the state facing a budget crunch and many Republican legislators resisting significant changes in Measure 37.

SB1037, which will evolve in the next few weeks, has drawn criticism from planning advocates and property rights advocates.

Dozens of environmentalists and farmers turned out Wednesday to discourage loosening agriculture protections and encourage a plan to pay Measure 37 claimants. Development allowed by Measure 37 -- and by Ringo's bill -- could squash neighboring farms, they said.

"We make investments and business decisions based on a stable, predictable land base," said Rich Holcomb, a Douglas County rancher. "We can't afford to lose that protection."

The planning advocacy group 1000 Friends of Oregon is aggressively campaigning for an alternative to waiving rules. They say developers could buy credits from successful Measure 37 claimants and use them to build in "receiving zones" set aside for future growth. That would allow claimants to cash in on their property will still allowing governments to limit growth in certain areas.

Proponents of Measure 37 -- including Oregonians in Action, the group that wrote and passed it -- are wary of taking away rights voters gave themselves.

Sen. Roger Beyer, R-Molalla, said he'd hesitate to quit issuing waivers. As a tree grower and rancher, Beyer said, he knows farmers and urban neighbors can co-exist.

"There's nothing in Measure 37 that says, 'If you want to continue to farm, you can't,' " Beyer said.

Laura Oppenheimer: 503-294-5957; loppenheimer@news.oregonian.com





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