Voters keep cigarette tax as is but roll back property rights
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 49 on Tuesday, rolling back the property development rights approved just three years earlier.
After a hammer and tong campaign that pitted conservationists against timber interests, and in which both sides recruited usually reticent farmers to the fray, voters approved Measure 49 by 61 percent to 39 percent.
"People stood back and watched it for three years and said this isn't what we voted for," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said.
About 300 supporters, gathered at the McMenamins Kennedy School in Northeast Portland, cheered and applauded when the results were posted.
"This is a real relief," said Bruce Chapin, a Salem-area hazelnut farmer.
But opponents said Oregon's land-use battles are far from over. Dave Hunnicutt, president of the property rights group Oregonians in Action, said he'll spend the next couple of months helping frustrated landowners sort through their options.
"There may be some who think this ends the issue, but I think they'd be in the minority," he said.
Hunnicutt said opponents never had a chance because Democratic legislators wrote the 21-page measure's ballot title and explanatory statement themselves.
"I'm not sure voters ever really got a chance to understand one way or the other what the impact of 49 really does," he said.
The outcome drastically scales back development allowed under Measure 37, approved by voters in 2004. Under the new law, landowners will be allowed to build one to 10 houses under various scenarios. The measure prohibits larger subdivisions and commercial and industrial development, however.
Some claims filed under Measure 37 remain in limbo. If property owners are legally vested -- meaning they've spent enough money or done enough construction -- they might be able to finish projects that are beyond the scope of what's allowed under Measure 49.
After an intense campaign, the state's populous urban counties -- primarily Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas, joined by Marion, Lane and Benton -- carried the day for Measure 49. Many rural counties in eastern and southern Oregon rejected the measure.
Supporters said Measure 49 would fix the problems with Measure 37 by allowing rural property owners to build a few homes but prohibiting giant subdivisions and commercial and industrial development. Opponents maintained Measure 49 would gut the earlier property rights measure.
Measure 37 spoke to the frustration of thousands of Oregonians who had come to believe that government-imposed conditions and prohibitions violated their property rights. It passed handily in 2004, winning 61 percent of the vote. Property owners responded by filing 7,500 development claims, asking for the right to develop everything from single homes and 100-home subdivisions to shopping malls, resorts and gravel pits -- much of it on rural farmland and forestland.
Property owners often were acting on the advice of land-use lawyers who encouraged them to file for the maximum allowed as a placeholder claim to preserve future development rights. Property rights advocates argued that market conditions, the lack of infrastructure and Measure 37's health and safety provisions would restrict the actual development that would take place.
There was no mistaking the voters' mood in 2004. A state-appointed "Big Look" task force, assigned afterward to review the land-use planning system and suggest changes, concluded that many Oregonians viewed the system as unnecessarily complicated and heavy-handed.
But the scale of proposed Measure 37 development, especially in the Willamette Valley where 60 percent of the claims were filed, alarmed conservationists and farm groups. They found ready allies in Democratic legislators, who wrote Measure 49 during the 2007 legislative session and referred it to voters on a party-line vote.
The campaign partisans took it from there. Yamhill County vineyard owner Eric Lemelson poured more than $1 million into the Yes on 49 campaign. The Nature Conservancy of Oregon, which usually works in the background buying land for preservation as wildlife habitat, made passing Measure 49 its top priority and funneled $1.2 million to the campaign.
Timber companies were the biggest contributors to the other side. Stimson Lumber, which filed Measure 37 development claims on at least 57,000 acres, contributed $495,000 to Oregonians in Action, which headed the opposition.
Reporter Michael Milstein of The Oregonian contributed to this report. Eric Mortenson; 503-294-7636; firstname.lastname@example.org