Oregon’s property law going back to the voters

SALEM, Ore. – Oregon’s property compensation law will be back in the voters’ lap in a special election Nov. 6.

A measure referring the issue again to voters won final legislative approval Wednesday, setting the stage for what all sides agree will be an expensive campaign pitting property rights activists against those intent on preserving Oregon’s green spaces.

The final step came when the House, on a straight party-line vote, decided to place on the ballot a measure to scale back rural development that would be allowed under the Measure 37 property compensation law enacted by voters in 2004.

Democrats who backed the rewrite said Measure 37, in its current form, has sparked thousands of claims for compensation and threatens to unleash unbridled housing development of some of Oregon’s prime farm and forest land.

But Republicans called the bill an attempt to overturn the will of the voters who have made it clear they want government to compensate landowners for reduced property value.

The 2004 initiative requires governments to pay owners for property value lost from land-use restrictions passed after the property was purchased, or to waive the restrictions.

A separate bill placing the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot will be passed soon, said House Majority Leader Dave Hunt. There had been earlier discussion of placing the issue on a September ballot, he said, but legislative leaders decided a November election would be a higher-turnout affair.

Advocates on both sides of the debate said they have little doubt the hot-button issue will bring out lots of voters and that it likely will be a contentious campaign.

“It has every possibility of being a high-spending campaign,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat who was instrumental in drafting the rewrite bill. “You will have the pro-Measure 37 property rights advocates who will see this as their last stand.”

A spokesman for Oregonians in Action, the group that spearheaded the campaign to win voter massage of Measure 37 in 2004, said defenders of the law indeed are preparing for a vigorous campaign to thwart what they see as the Legislature’s attempt to “gut” Measure 37.

“People want to protect their property rights,” said Dave Hunicutt, the group’s executive director. “They don’t like being told they didn’t know what they were voting for” when they adopted Measure 37 in the first place.

Portland pollster Mike Riley, who’s been gauging voter sentiment on the issue, said Oregonians are “clearly split” on the question of whether Measure 37 needs to be rewritten or preserved in its current form.

“At this point, the odds favor the Measure 37 supporters, because the voters did pass this, but it is certainly not a slam dunk either way,” Riley said. He added he doesn’t have a finished poll to publicly release at this point.

The bill that won final approval Wednesday would ask voters to give priority to landowners who want to build a couple of houses – not a couple of subdivisions.

The bill offers an “express lane” for Measure 37 claimants who want to build between one and three houses. For existing claimants who wish to build between four and 10 dwellings, they must demonstrate loss of value due to land use regulations equal to or greater than the value of the number of homes they want to build.

A third option would allow property owners who have had claims approved by state and local agencies, and who have made significant investments, to continue development if approved by government agencies.

A statewide cap of 20 dwellings per claimant is imposed under the bill.

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