Associated Press Writer
SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon Supreme Court upheld a voter-approved property rights law Tuesday that requires governments to pay landowners for property value losses caused by regulations, or to waive the regulation and let the owner develop the property.
The Supreme Court reversed a decision issued in October by Marion County Circuit Judge Mary James, who said Measure 37 violates the state and federal constitutions.
At the time, James ruled that Measure 37 strips the Legislature of its power, gives long-time landowners an unfair advantage and fails to give their neighbors a voice in the process.
The Supreme Court justices said, however, "we find none of these arguments persuasive."
Further, the high court said, while the state and federal constitutions don't require compensation to landowners, neither do they prohibit it.
"The people, in exercising their initiative power, were free to enact Measure 37 in furtherance of policy objectives such as compensating landowners," the court said in an opinion written by Chief Justice Paul De Muniz.
The group that sponsored Measure 37 hailed Tuesday's ruling as a victory for property owners.
"We hope the lawsuits end, the delaying tactics stop and that the claims can proceed. These people have waited for years to get back the use of their property," said Dave Hunnicutt, executive director of Oregonians in Action.
Although the law has been in legal limbo, more than 2,000 claims have been filed across Oregon.
Counties have taken different approaches since James ruled against the measure on Oct. 14. Some counties are continuing to accept and process claims for compensation by landowners, while others put them on hold pending a final resolution to the legal case.
Without money to compensate claimants, many counties and state agencies instead waived regulations.
Oregon in 1973 adopted land-use policies that are often regarded as a model for protecting America's farmland and other open space. The combination of local, county and state regulations has confined most new housing to already built-up areas.
Those laws sparked a property rights revolt that led voter passage of Measure 37 after proponents argued that it was only fair to compensate property owners for losses caused by land use regulations.
But opponents said rural development would harm farmers and their neighbors.
The land-use planning advocacy group 1000 Friends of Oregon said Tuesday while the Supreme Court found that Measure 37 is legal, "the court did not rule that it is fair."
"It is not fair to put a gravel pit next to someone's home, and that is what Measure 37 allows," said Bob Stacey, executive director of the group. "The government needs to find a way to pay those people who experienced a loss without sacrificing our quality of life and hurting neighbors."
Advocates on both sides of the issue were hoping that Tuesday's decision would give Oregon's new land-use task force clear guidance on where to take Oregon's 30-year-old land use planning system, regarded as the strictest in the nation.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski and legislative leaders recently appointed what's been called the "big look" panel to propose reforms.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)