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2004-11-27
Portland, OR. New Property Compensation Law Weakens Urban Growth Boundaries

One of the nation's most progressive land use concepts has been successfully damaged by property rights zealots. On November 2nd, voters in Oregon approved a Measure 37 that allows property owners who can demonstrate that environmental or zoning ordinances have harmed their investment, to force the local or state government to pay them for their losses, or get an exemption from the rules. The new law will have a chilling effect on Oregon's Urban Growth Boundaries, which limits areas of development within the boundaries, and leaves land outside the growth zones less developed and open. The voters of Oregon passed the property rights law with a 60% majority. Starting December 2nd, landowners can begin to make claims for compensation. If an owner's claim is found to be valid, the government can pay off, or waive any restrictions that went into force after the owners - or their parents or grandparents - acquired the land. According to a November 26th article in the New York Times, "Some fear that the state will be unable to pay and that hillsides in the Cascades now bristling with fir trees and pear orchards could sprout a crop of McMansions, Wal-Marts or resort condominiums in a few years." In Oregon, each county has developed an UGB, "urban growth boundaries" around its cities and has tried to keep most development to areas within them. Oregon's governor, Ted Kulongoski, who opposed the compensation measure, said last week that he would urge lawmakers to fund the compensation rather than waive the restrictions on development. Several other states already have laws to compensate landowners for lost development value. Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi have such laws, but they set a limited threshold for payment, e.g. 25% reduction in a property's value, and states pay only for losses caused by new land-use rules. The retroactive feature of the Oregon law could affect many more people. One of the largest land planning groups in the state, 1000 Friends of Oregon, says it favors paying landowners something for their lost value -- but opposed Measure 37. "We support an adequately funded system of compensation for property owners who have experienced individual hardship in the application of our state's land use regulations," the Friends wrote. "We believe Oregon voters approved Measure 37 with the understanding that they were voting for greater fairness in Oregon's land use system. However, we believe Measure 37 also includes several provisions that are inherently unfair and toxic to the democratic process." 1000 Friends called Measure 37 an "unfunded mandate with one clear objective: to rollback Oregon's land use protections." According to the group, "The measure makes the false promise of payments to property owners, but local and state governments simply do not have the money for such payments. It is inherently unfair to authorize government to issue waivers arbitrarily for select property owners. In the absence of adequate funding, the effect of Measure 37 is to force government to issue such waivers. Furthermore, Measure 37 eliminates all normal notice and public hearing requirements so that affected neighbors and Oregon taxpayers remain in the dark and vulnerable to backroom deal making."


What you can do: 1000 Friends is encouraging cities and counties to use an open, public process to review claims filed under Measure 37. "If you are involved in or monitoring how your local government jurisdictions plan to create procedures to implement Measure 37, insist that it ALL be done in the daylight of public process," Friends says. "This is not an effort to "thwart" any implementation-it is just sound government in a democracy. If we are going to honor the will of the voters for "fairness," then let's have a fair process for doing it." The group plans to track claims for cash or waivers, and "make sure the public and the legislature know about the most outrageous assaults on our communities and our working landscapes." The state's Department of Administrative Services is creating a central claims registry to keep track of Measure 37 requests. Oregon residents can email 1000 Friends at M37claims@friends.org with information about claims. 1000 Friends is also researching a legal challenge to the new law, and urges residents who believe a local jurisdiction is acting beyond its legal authority to implement Measure 37, to email M37law@friends.org. The group plans to lobby for elimination of the waiver provisions of the new law, which it calls a "nasty suprise" slipped into the law. "Fairness to property owners does not result from unfairly damaging one's neighbors!"










 
 
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