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Measure 37 session draws a crowd to Lake Oswego

Some drove for more than an hour, coming from as far off as Dundee, Sauvie Island and St. Helens to talk about Measure 37.

But a crowd at a state-sponsored forum at Lake Oswego Junior High School Monday drew few constituents of host Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego. Instead, the audience was mostly a mix of rural landowners, all wanting answers to questions remaining about the new state law.

Measure 37 outlines reimbursement for property owners who seek reprieve from government regulations reducing the value of their land.

Macpherson sought comment from local people for a legislative committee that aims to plug loopholes in the law with fair solutions, but few local opinions emerged.

Instead, many who spoke were rural landowners, some Lake Oswegans with rural land interests, wanting access to proceeds on development-locked parcels. Some also looked for a sign from the legislator that the new committee on Land Use Fairness intends to comply with the spirit of the law.

'I wonder where the legislators were on fairness when they were incrementally, over the last 30 years, taking property rights away from owners?' said Glenn Gregg, a Lake Oswego resident, to a round of applause.

Gregg owns 80 acres in Yamhill County and would like to develop 13 homes there and a $2 million equestrian center. He said his neighbors like the plan, some have offered trails on nearby land, but restrictions block development because it is outside Metro's Urban Growth Boundary, Gregg said.

A Senate bill now pending, SB 505, would fast-track single-home claims ahead of larger-scale developments like Gregg's on land outside the UGB. The bill would time out all other claims until June, allowing the Legislature time to answer outstanding legal questions.

Those questions include whether waivers for land use restrictions granted under Measure 37 can be passed on to heirs. Those who build under the waivers also want to know whether the value of what they build will hold if they sell the land, which today makes them 'nonconforming' structures under the law.

Property owners have struggled with water rights and access to sewer and septic facilities while building under the law. Lenders are also tip-toeing through Measure 37's wake of unknowns, many uneasy about backing proposed developments when their value after a sale is unknown.

Some in the audience said the only ones gaining from the law appeared to be those with the financial backing to press forward with claims, including corporations.

Macpherson said shaping Measure 37 to favor individual Oregonians over corporate interests is key to the charge of the committee he co-chairs.

'Although the measure promised compensation, there is no funding mechanism in the measure, so it's become a measure about waivers of land use restrictions,' he said.

'It treats corporations more favorably than regular Oregonians because those corporations, they never die, they can continue transferability through a variety of mergers.'

Carolyn Jones, a Lake Oswego resident who has challenged sensitive lands restrictions on her Glenmorrie-area property, said the conversation at the forum highlighted problems in addressing land use issues statewide in one package.

'In my opinion, it's problematic to make one law that fits all. What's going on in the rural areas is different then what's going on in Lake Oswego,' she said.

Rex Hagans of Oregon City echoed that concern, asking Macpherson for broader definition of high-quality farmland in rural areas. His own 46 acres is not developable under today's rules but also is not useful as a farm.

'I think one of the things you're facing is you're going to have to break this thing down into finer grain than it's been broken into in the past,' he said.

While problem solving rolls forward at the state level, thousands of Measure 37 claims are also traveling the approval process.

So far, Oregon has handled 2,200 Measure 37 claims, about 90 percent of which were approved, according to Lane Shetterly, a former state representative who is now director of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation.

Shetterly also spoke at the forum.

To date, Shetterly said a total of 7,000 claims have been filed statewide, 3,500 of those recently, just before a filing deadline for old claims that passed in December.

But as questions remain and related litigation flows to the Oregon Supreme Court, Shetterly said four to six years of legal battles likely lie ahead.

Until then, property owners can't know for sure how land might be impacted by use of a Measure 37 waiver.