Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Screwed sideways by Measure 37

At LO we've been following the story of Brian and Laurel Hines, who are finding themselves on the screwed sideways end of Measure 37, the "property rights" measure.

Its becoming apparent that those who drafted, marketed and passed M37 either didn't know what they were doing or they care only about some people's property rights. At least in the case of the Hines', the domino effect from the claim they're fighting could potentially wreck the groundwater for their land.

The Statesman-Journal has also been covering this story and presents a good background for the conflict:

In 1971, LeRoy Laack and three others purchased more than 215 acres in the hills south of Salem.

They intended to subdivide and develop the property, on the 9800 block of Liberty Road S, after lots were sold at Spring Lake Estates, a neighboring development.

Several years later, they discovered that the property had been rezoned from residential/agriculture to exclusive farmland.

"I personally feel that my wife and myself and these other people have been robbed of our rights by the state of Oregon under the guise of land-use planning, which is a joke in the first place," Laack said. "Because if you are big enough or powerful enough, you can work around it."

Measure 37 gave Laack the opportunity to move forward with the development he wanted 30 years ago.

He filed one of the first claims in Marion County, which approved his claim.

His subdivision plans went before Marion County's planning commission Dec. 19.

More than 50 neighbors -- from Spring Lake Estates and others from more recent developments -- attended the meeting to ask the board of commissioners to deny the application.

Their main reason: limited supplies of groundwater.

Laack's claim is within one of Marion County's Sensitive Groundwater Overlay Zones.

In essence, Hines and the other neighbors are claiming that there is inadequate groundwater to support the development that Laack is planning. Brian even made mention at his blog that Laack's own hired hydrogeologist testified that more info is needed about water levels before the development moves forward. The piece I've linked to here also goes into greater detail about the problems with the groundwater.

The Statesman Journal article also contains information from Leroy Laack that I'm hearing is blatantly false:

Laack has had to defend his contention that the land is worth more as a development. Several residents and some planning commissioners question his argument that the land is not suitable for farming.

Planning commissioner Roger Kaye said that soil maps show the parcel containing high-quality soils, which are perfect for agriculture.

Other residents talked about vineyards growing grapes for wine and other farms growing grass seed.

But Laack said that he has begged farmers to use his land for free and that no one wants it.

According to my conversation with Laurel, tree farmer Peter Dinsdale has a farm that runs adjacent to Laack's property and testified that he'd offered to farm it for Laack, but was rebuffed. I called Dinsdale to verify this but his assistant said that he's out of the country until the end of the month.

Some might say that this mess is the fault of Marion County because after all, M37 has a health, safety and welfare clause. But M37 has yet to be interpreted by the courts--and Marion County doesn't want to be the first to test it, apparently. The language of the clause in question is nonspecific, so Marion County is going to err on the side of the M37 claimant rather than risk being sued for noncompliance.

Also, the Marion County Commissioners are saying that the Oregon Water Resources Department should be limiting development in areas where there are water issues. The OWRD is saying that they have no legal standing to do so because they can't limit development until there is an established problem.

So there's no coordinating between agencies under 37--and no established proper authority to make the decisions about development.

Unfortunately, its not just the Hines and their neighbors who are victims of the messes being generated by this M37 claim. Its all of the taxpayers who pay to keep the Marion County Commissioners and their offices in business. Rafts of claims have come pouring in to counties who have to sift through them quickly or run the risk of being out of compliance. Somebody has to be paid to do this--and that money comes out of our pockets.

Laurel also told me that Marion County staff is telling M37 claimants to start development ASAP. If they don't, the staff says that they may not get to develop due to changes made by the legislature or a possible repeal of the measure. In other words, claimants should hurry up and screw over their neighbors now--because it might be illegal to screw them later.

The Marion County Planning Commission was supposed to decide Tuesday night whether or not to approve Laack's subdivision application. I've got a call in to Brian and Laurel to see whether or not they met (I'm thinking they probably didn't due to the inclement weather) and how things have shaken out.