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Land-use chaos.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Anyone needing proof that Measure 37 has turned Oregon's land-use system on its head need only consider the Eugene City Council's decision to propose a special tax on land that increases in value because of zoning decisions.

The prospect of Eugene becoming the first city in the state to levy such a tax is not a welcome one. For three decades, Oregon's land-use laws provided for coordinated, orderly urban development under the premise that land-use rules were intended for the collective benefit of all citizens. The thought of imposing a property tax surcharge on landowners who benefitted from zoning was as foreign as, well, requiring governments to compensate landowners when regulations reduced the value of their properties.

But Measure 37 has fundamentally changed Oregon's land-use equation. Approved by voters in November 2004, the law requires governments to either turn back the planning clock to the rules that were in place when property was purchased - or to compensate owners for financial losses that resulted from subsequent zoning changes.

That's the theory, anyway. The reality is that cities and counties throughout the state have no money to preserve land-use rules by paying Measure 37 claims. Because the initiative's supporters intentionally left out any provisions for new revenues to compensate property owners, the law is undermining regulations and plans that took communities and their citizens decades to put in place.

The Oregon Legislature had an opportunity last session to fix this and other Measure 37 flaws but failed to do so. As a result, local governments were left with a tangle of unresolved policy and legal questions - and no recourse other than to waive land-use rules for qualifying Measure 37 claims.

Against that bleak backdrop, a few local governments have scrambled to find ways to raise money to pay Measure 37 claims rather than waive planning rules. In the Portland area, a regional task force last year proposed taxing property owners in urban growth boundary expansion areas and using the revenues to pay Measure 37 claims in areas where development is considered most undesirable.

Eugene is considering a somewhat broader approach - a one-time tax that would be triggered by city decisions increasing property values. Examples might include a rezoning that allows more houses or businesses to be built on a property than permissible under the previous zoning - or a Eugene-Springfield Metropolitan Area General Plan change that brings farm land into the urban growth boundary where it can be developed.

It's hard to generate much enthusiasm for a proposed tax that seems nearly as antithetical to Oregon's traditional land-use philosophy as Measure 37. Yet the 5-4 City Council majority that voted to consider such a tax deserves credit for not letting the Measure 37 bulldozer run over them - and for seeking ways to preserve the city's land-use options.

A statewide solution, however, would be preferable. The Legislature has created a Big Look task force to engage Oregonians in a broad review of the state's land-use system. But that effort is unlikely to produce results for several years, and lawmakers must find a way in the next legislative session to help local governments come to grips with Measure 37 before it's too late.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Statewide solution preferable to local tax
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Words:531
Previous Article:Reject OSAA plan.
Next Article:Eugene needs to reconsider taxing scheme.
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