Jackson County officials heralded an Oregon Supreme Court ruling this week that appears to settle the conflict between two competing property rights laws.

Jackson County officials heralded an Oregon Supreme Court ruling this week that appears to settle the conflict between two competing property rights laws.

The May 8 ruling, which settled a Clackamas County dispute between a property owner and the state Department of Land Conservation and Development, found that any rights under Measure 37 were swept away by the passage of Measure 49 in 2007.

Measure 37, approved by voters in 2004, attempted to provide property owners who have owned their land for many years with relief from development restrictions imposed by Oregon's land-use laws. But, after property owners filed about 7,000 state claims under Measure 37, voters approved Measure 49, which overturned much of the property rights law.

Prior to passage of Measure 49, Jackson County had approved 571 waivers of land-use rules on about 60,000 acres. The county recently took steps to create a process under Measure 49 that would help determine some rights for Measure 37 claimants.

Opponents, however, argued that the county's process illegally limited their rights because they considered all approved Measure 37 claims to be constitutionally protected.

"They were saying Measure 37 was inviolable, and the rights under Measure 37 couldn't be changed in 49," said Commissioner C.W. Smith. "If we went along with the proposal, we would have fouled a lot of people up."

The Supreme Court ruling stated, "An examination of the text and context of Measure 49 conveys a clear intent to extinguish and replace the benefits and procedure that Measure 37 granted to landowners."

Smith said the county has charted a new course under Measure 49 despite the opponents' contentions, creating a clearer path for those who filed claims with both the state and the county.

"We are completely vindicated," said Commissioner C.W. Smith.

Property owners — many of them elderly — with Measure 37 claims from both the state and the county started receiving letters from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development in January advising them that they had a 90-day deadline. They needed to choose between a fast-track option to build up to three homes and a more difficult process to build up to 10 homes or prove they had made sufficient progress in the development to be considered legally vested.

The county's emergency ordinance, passed in March, outlined what steps property owners needed to take to prove to Jackson County they had made substantial progress toward a particular development allowed under Measure 37. If the property owner could prove that enough steps had been taken, the person would have a so-called "vested right" to continue with the development.

Smith applauded the court ruling, but said he was disappointed that the state didn't help the counties after the passage of Measure 49 to develop a uniform standard to follow.

"They didn't take a strong leadership role," he said.

The nine-page court ruling found that Measure 49 has a significant effect on Measure 37.

"In fact, Measure 49 by its terms deprives Measure 37 waivers — and all orders disposing of Measure 37 claims — of any continuing viability," the ruling stated.

County Counsel Allie O'Connor said the effect of the decision is pretty clear.

"There is no protection for property rights in a Measure 37 waiver," she said.

Medford resident David Smith, who is part of a local group called Citizens for Constitutional Fairness, said his legal research has so far come up with a different interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling.

He said the court basically called Measure 49 a taking of property rights, although he said the court didn't go so far as to call it an unconstitutional taking.

"That still hasn't been answered," he said.

David Smith said other lawsuits are being pursued that could eventually determine the constitutionality of Measure 49.

Even though he has a different interpretation, he said, "There is no doubt in my mine that the DLCD will toot its own horn and say they have won. They haven't won."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.