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Nature group backs Measure 49

Land use - The Nature Conservancy, which usually avoids politics, has given $360,000 to limit Measure 37
August 22, 2007 by Eric Mortenson, Oregonian

The Nature Conservancy usually works quietly in the background, buying property to preserve as wildlife habitat, acquiring development rights or working with landowners on restoration projects.

But the group's Oregon chapter has jumped into the middle of the property rights debate, emerging as the biggest donor so far in support of Measure 49, which would limit development rights made possible when voters approved Measure 37 four years ago.

Through Tuesday, The Nature Conservancy in Oregon had contributed nearly $360,000 to the Yes on 49 campaign, all but $9,200 of it in cash, state campaign finance records show. Measure 49 will be on the November ballot.

State Director Russell Hoeflich acknowledged that The Nature Conservancy does not typically get involved in political campaigns, but he called Measure 37 a "fundamental attack" on Oregon's land-use system.

"In this case, after evaluating the impact of Measure 37 on clean water supplies and on working farms and forests, we decided to join the broad coalition of business leaders, farm organizations, conservation groups and others in supporting Measure 49," Hoeflich said.

The state group's board of trustees unanimously supported taking a leadership role in the campaign, he said, and the national and international organizations approved the action.

The Oregon chapter reallocated money in its budget to contribute to the campaign, Hoeflich said.

Approval of Measure 37 resulted in about 7,500 claims by property owners who maintained that land-use regulations imposed after they bought the property hindered its development and reduced its value. The law required local governments to compensate property owners or waive the regulation in question.

Cities and counties, with no money to pay millions in compensation claims, routinely approved Measure 37 claims.

But the scope of development plans filed with Measure 37 claims alarmed conservation groups, farm and vineyard owners, and others. Measure 49 would allow many property owners to build up to three houses -- as many as 10 in limited cases -- while prohibiting large subdivisions, shopping malls and industrial development.

The Yes on 49 campaign has received more than $1 million in contributions and reported spending $313,000 through Tuesday.

Winery owner Eric Lemelson of Carlton is the campaign's second-largest contributor. He has given $225,000, plus another $100,000 from a trust in the name of his mother, Dorothy Lemelson.

Lemelson said his home and vineyards are surrounded by Measure 37 claims. "Personally, I don't have a problem with small claims or giving a house or two to your kids -- no worries in my books." But large subdivision claims are a threat to Oregon agriculture, he said.

Other key contributors to the Yes on 49 campaign include 1000 Friends of Oregon, which has given $30,000, and farm bureaus in Polk, Washington and Marion counties, which have contributed a total of $27,000.

Measure 37 was sponsored by Oregonians In Action, a property rights group based in Tigard. The group strongly opposes Measure 49. Through Tuesday, Oregonians in Action reported $112,251 in contributions and spending of $89,732.

Oregonians in Action and others, including individual property owners, maintain that large Measure 37 claims often were filed as legal "placeholders" to preserve development rights. Many claimants say they don't plan to develop their property as intensely as they indicated in their claims.

Eric Mortenson; 503-294-7636; ericmortenson@news.oregonian.com

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