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Measure 37 bringing twin billboards to Boring

Claim ends 35-year moratorium on the advertising displays
by: Marcus Hathcock, Two of these poles appeared at the Highway 26/Haley Road intersection in the last several weeks, and by the end of the month they should hold large signs.

BORING - A new application of Measure 37 will bring a new development that otherwise wouldn't have been permitted across Highway 26 from Good Shepherd Church on Haley Road.

That development isn't a Wal-Mart, a fast food restaurant or even a dozen row houses; instead, a landowner's claim will bring two large billboards to Boring, ending a 35-year moratorium on such advertising vehicles.

Florence Erickson - who has owned her Haley Road land since 1943 - filed a Measure 37 claim with Clackamas County in July 2005, asserting that a number of land-use regulations devalued her 53-acre property to the tune of $6 million.

Measure 37, an initiative passed by voters in 2004, requires governments to either waive land-use requirements that reduce a property's value or compensate landowners for the reduction in value. So rather than pay Erickson the money, the county opted to waive all applicable land rules, giving her total, unrestricted use of the property.

The claim didn't say what Erickson intended to do with the land; it just sought to have all uses legalized. The county approved the claim last May, and by December, the county and the state had approved permits for the Erickson interests to build two, 76-foot high billboards.

'In this particular case, (Erickson) bought the property before billboard restrictions went into effect,' said John Borge, the principal planner for Clackamas County. He said that since the billboard industry pays landowners to place the signs on their property, the inability to get that kind of income could be - and was - perceived as a devaluation of the property.

'We don't have the funds to pay these claims,' Borge said. 'So the county is in a position where we are going to have to approve building permits for billboards on the property. It's one of those twists to the measure people didn't really think about. That's the beauty of Measure 37 - you just never know what will happen.'

The specs

Once built, the $50,000 billboards - the only ones between the Gresham and Sandy city limits - will stand 76 feet tall. They will be V-shaped, holding angled signs on each side of the massive steel pole, facing east and west. In all, there will be four lit advertisements, measuring 48 by 14 feet.

'It's massive,' noted Mel Roach of the Clackamas County Building Division.

The twin steel poles, which appeared in the sky about three weeks ago, sit at the southern edge of the property that once housed Berry Good Produce and Nursery and its fields of fruit. The land has been devoid of berries and the fruit stand has been abandoned for about 18 years.

On Monday, March 5, one of the Erickson brothers - who refused to identify himself other than to say he was the property owner - was working on the Haley Road property.

When asked about the nature of the billboards, the man remarked, 'There ain't much going on here; it's the same owners on the same piece of land just making a living off of it. It's pretty much my business, (and) I don't aim to give you a lot of information right now.'

The man admitted he doesn't know what specific advertisement the billboard company will put up on the poles, but noted, 'You'll find out in about two, three weeks.'

'You can't stop progress'

Locals' reaction to news that billboards were coming to one of Boring's busiest intersections was either negative or indifferent.

Thirty-year Haley Road residents Ruth and Scott Mickelson are against the billboards.

'It's just not a good spot for it,' Ruth said. 'There are already accidents there all the time. It'll be dangerous and will just make things worse, especially at night.'

'It's going to be an eyesore in the area,' added Scott. 'It's just a bunch of crap.'

Boring Community Planning Organization Chairman Les Otto said, 'That's an awfully ugly place for billboards at that corner, but I guess if they were done within the parameters of permitting and everything's on the up and up, I don't really have an opinion about it.'

'Well, of course it's going to cut off my view,' said Helen Hoar, a 60-year Lariat Lane resident who has watched her north-facing panoramas shrink over the decades. 'My hill is disappearing. I don't think there's anything we can do about it now, but I don't like it. You just can't stop progress.'

'It's just sad,' said Sherri Suminski, a Gresham resident who drives to Haley Road twice a day to transport her children to and from Good Shepherd School. 'Everyone is going to be very, very unhappy about this.'

Well, not everyone. Karen Kitchens lives just to the north of the billboards, and says she doesn't care about the signs one way or another.

'It's not going to bug me,' she said, noting that her view of Mount Hood to the east isn't affected. 'It's just a billboard. We'd be complaining if they put a Wal-Mart there, but it's not going to change anything for us. We live here and we'll have to look at it the most, and it doesn't bother me a bit.'

Kitchens' neighbor, Sherri Owens, says the fact that 'just billboards' are going in is a relief compared to what could go there.

'It's better than a bunch of equipment rolling around, being noisy,' she said. 'I don't really like it going in there, but it's going to be fine. I'm just glad it's not a bunch of trucks and tractors.'

City of Sandy weighs in

Sandy Mayor Linda Malone was not happy with the news.

'The county can't waive federal highway laws under Measure 37,' Malone said, alleging that the Measure 37 waiver violates the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which required each state to set standards for billboards and maintain 'effective control' of the signs or risk losing 5 percent of their federal highway dollars. Oregon's 1971 billboard law, which established the moratorium on the signs, sought to fulfill the federal act.

'I don't think this is what voters had in mind when they passed Measure 37,' Malone said. 'It wasn't so someone could throw up huge billboards that block the view of Mount Hood; they did it for that little old lady who wanted to build a house for her kids. One guy is going to get rich off degrading our views.'

Malone said that the billboards are also a violation of the Green Corridor Agreement, which the city of Sandy, Clackamas County and Metro signed to preserve a rural separation between the Metro bloc and Sandy.

City Manager Scott Lazenby said the city intends to 'pursue any avenues available' to keep the billboards from being finished.

'Our city attorney is looking into our legal options,' Lazenby said. 'If nothing else, the lack of notification on the application was a violation of the Green Corridor Agreement.'

Questions about notification

A lack of communication and notification from the county is a common complaint among locals.

Once the billboard poles appeared in the sky, area residents immediately buzzed with questions about the mysterious poles. Good Shepherd Community Church reportedly received quite a few inquiries from concerned churchgoers and locals, and even Otto didn't know what was going on.

As Lazenby stated, the city of Sandy wasn't notified of the development, either.

Hoar said she was surprised she wasn't notified of the billboards by the county, since she is within the 500-foot notification zone.

'The way I heard about it was from my son, who works for a blacktop company,' she said. Her neighbors, the Mickelsons, weren't contacted, either.

'That typically wouldn't happen,' Borge, the planner, said.

The county's position, he said, is that the billboards are, because of the Measure 37 claim, a permitted use. Billboards weren't prohibited when the Ericksons purchased the property in 1943; therefore, they're OK today.

In such outright permitted use situations, Borge said, there are no public hearings or notifications, since it's just a matter of county staff signing off on the project.

He said that public input comes into play when the circumstances of a development - such as traffic circulation, parking, impact on county services - are debatable.

'With a billboard, you're not dealing with parking or circulation issues,' Borge said. 'It's outright permitted; so that's why no one got notified.

'Although it may not be something everyone longs to see in the neighborhood,' Borge continued, 'they have the right to construct this structure on their property without any further land-use action.'

Otto says that regardless of people's feelings about the billboards or interpretation of Measure 37, it's too late to stop the project.

'They got the poles up now,' Otto said. 'And I don't think anyone can take those down real quick.'