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Stimsons development plan for Iowa Hill lumbers forward

The timber company says it will work with Washington County to prove 'vested rights' to build

Stimson Lumber Co. may be the first Measure 37 claimant in Washington County to move forward with a land claim after the passage of Measure 49.

The timber company, which filed claims on 57,000 acres of forest land in Washington County in 2006, outlined its plans to county officials last week.

Stimson representatives want to meet with county planners soon to sort out how the company could assert 'vested rights' to build a 40-lot subdivision on 1,100-acre tract of land on Iowa Hill, south of Cornelius.

Many voters assumed that the passage of Measure 49 last year nixed any claims made under a previous law, Measure 37, which proposed more than a house or two.

In general, they're right, except when it comes to a 'vested' claim.

Likely the most confusing footnote to the passage of Measure 49, vested rights claims are slowly cropping up around the state, to varied effects.

The goal of a vested rights claim is to prevent new government regulations from derailing a development in progress. The ages-old legal argument is rooted in common law, and is meant to prevent government officials from pulling the floor joists out from under developers who got started on a project before regulations were changed.

However, each state and each county handles the claims differently, leaving a patchwork of case law that's often hard to sort through.

'If you go to see a lawyer about a vested rights claim, you're not going to get a lot of comforting news,' said Dave Hunnicutt, president of Oregonians in Action, the land-use group that backed Measure 37.

Hunnicutt says he estimates less than 5 percent of Measure 37 claimants have petitioned for a vested rights claim. 'The reason for that is the uncertainty and the expense,' said Hunnicutt, a land-use lawyer who's handling several vested rights claims.

Under Measure 49, property owners can withdraw their successful Measure 37 claims and re-file with the state under Measure 49.

Those who re-file have a few options, including filing under the new law's vesting provision.

But Hunnicutt said property owners might also be able to file with the county, as Stimson apparently plans to do, or sue for vested rights in circuit court.

'These things are just a huge mess,' Hunnicutt said.

Washington County had initially scheduled a March 20 hearing on Stimson's Measure 37 claim, but the county cancelled the hearing after Stimson attorneys issued their intent, outlined in a letter, to pursue a vested rights claim.

Stimson's letter also grants the county an additional 150 days to review the company's land-use application.