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County ponders claim options for Measure 37

by: Photo By Holly M. Gill - A large crowd gathered Nov. 10 to hear what the Jefferson County Commission plans to do about the recent passage of Measure 37. Measure 37 requires city, county or state governments to pay property owners or forgo enforcement when certain land-use restrictions reduce property value.


   It sounds simple and straight forward, but Jefferson County Counsel Jacki Haggerty told county residents last week that the result of the passage of Measure 37 is anything but simple.
   Some 60 people packed into the courthouse annex Nov. 10, to find out what the county plans to do in regards to the state measure passed by 60 percent of the state's and 62 percent of the county's voters on Nov. 2.
   Measure 37 requires that city, county, and state governments pay property owners, or forgo enforcement, when certain land use restrictions reduce property value.
   "Nobody has any answers as to how the state is going to handle Measure 37," said Commission Chairman Bill Bellamy, adding that the county would develop a process to deal with claims when the measure takes effect Dec. 2.
   "We can throw the baby out with the bath water, or we can do the best we can," said Haggerty.
   Claims must be made in writing by the current owner or owners -- and all owners or interest holders must join the claim -- who prove ownership with a deed or title report. Claimants must prove that a specific regulation restricts use of property, reduces fair market value (as proven by a certified appraisal), and that the restriction or reduction occurred after the enactment of the regulation. After filing the claim, they must wait 180 days before filing a suit in the Circuit Court.
   Haggerty said that city, county, and state governments have four options when a property owner files a legitimate claim: paying the claim; ignoring, waiving, or repealing the regulation; denying the claim and initiating the code enforcement process; or litigation between the owner and county, or other opponents.
   "It's a huge challenge for staff. We have to determine what law was in effect when you got your land," said Haggerty.
   If the property owner can prove that a regulation somehow reduced the value of his or her land, and the county won't pay just compensation for the reduction, then the county must waive or ignore the regulation. "The real heart of this is how do you prove a reduction in value?" Haggerty asked.
   "The best we can do is to come up with a process that's fair and consistent for everyone."
   Reduction in the land's value is figured from the date on which the regulation was enacted until the date of claim.
   Measure 37 provides exemptions for nuisances, health and safety violations, federal laws, pornography, and regulations effective prior to the date the land was acquired.
   The commission opened the meeting for questions, although Bellamy stressed that the commission probably would not have answers.
   Bob Harris, a Madras farmer, advised the commission that since the measure was approved by over 60 percent of the county's voters. "The smart thing would be for the county to accept it as written and let it fall where it would fall," he said. "Unless the thing is overturned, it's very cut and dried."
   Luella Friend, of Ashwood, commented, "I want to know when, who, how, the ability to run our own places was put in the hands of the government."
   Haggerty explained that in 1973, the state passed a comprehensive land-use process, after extensive public hearings.
   "Jefferson County does have the authority to pass local laws, and this was a local law," she said. "Once it was adopted, it applies to everyone."
   Steve Rask told the commission that he understands that it's the job of legal counsel to look for problems "hopefully to remedy them," but added, "We're tired of land-use restrictions. It's very clear and concise. Please don't try to complicate this."
   The audience broke into applause when Rask continued, "We need to move forward with this because the people of the county and state said they want to move forward with this."
   After the meeting, former Land Conservation and Development Commissioner Gary Harris, a Madras farmer, commented, "For the wishes of a few, we're going to destroy a 30-year precedence. Sixty-five percent said we're for 37; were they for compensation, or for destruction of land-use planning as we know it today?"