TALENT — David Lowry has been one of the leading pear growers in the valley for more than a half-century.

TALENT — David Lowry has been one of the leading pear growers in the valley for more than a half-century.

"I'd like to stay in the business of raising pears," said the Talent resident, who founded Associated Fruit Co. in the 1940s. "This area is capable of producing some very high-quality fruit."

Lowry decided to protect himself against the pear industry's uncertain future by filing Measure 37 claims on more than 1,000 acres in a number of tax lots, joining 570 other Jackson County property owners who have filed claims.

Lowry was among the 61 percent of Oregon voters who approved the property rights initiative in November 2004. It compels government agencies to waive offending land-use regulations within six months of receiving a valid claim or pay the property owner compensation for lost value.

The last of the local claims will make their way to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners in the coming weeks.

The courts have ruled the controversial measure constitutional, but judges did not look favorably on Jackson County's aggressive handling of claims. Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Phil Arnold ruled in January that the county erred in not requiring property owners to file a separate claim with the state of Oregon. Arnold also ruled that the county cannot continue to issue permits without regard to possible state requirements.

Commissioners have approved the vast majority of the claims they have reviewed. Only 14 claims have been withdrawn. Of the 83 awaiting review, several dozen have been tabled at the request of the property owners.

In recent weeks, commissioners have been approving as many as 30 claims during each of their weekly board meetings.

The land submitted for claims amounts to some 60,000 acres (nearly 94 square miles) on 1,010 tax lots, many of which lie in the hills along the east side of the Bear Creek Valley between Medford and Ashland.

The total land area of all the cities in Jackson County would have to be doubled to match the land area that's been submitted for Measure 37 claims.

The Legislature has attempted to clarify some issues of confusion that arose after voters approved the measure, such as whether a claim could be transferred to a new property owner, and the number of houses that could be built on a tax lot.

For property-rights advocates such as Lowry, the legislative fix for Measure 37 doesn't sit well.

"I don't like the idea that the politicians are trying to go against the will of the people," he said.

Lowry said the type of use for each tax lot he owns will depend on where it's located, but he said he's not ready to sell his land or develop it.

"My purpose in filing for Measure 37 is dependent on the future of the horticultural industry," he said.

He noted that fruit growers struggle with foreign competition, an uncertain labor force and expensive environmental regulations. Oregon's minimum wage (at $7.80 per hour, the second highest in the United States) limits his ability to hire workers and rising transportation costs have put him in a bind since many of the pears are sold on the East Coast.

Other orchard owners such as Naumes, Inc. have also filed Measure 37 claims.

The measure grew out of dissatisfaction with Oregon's land use laws after many tax lots were zoned for farm or forest uses that severely limited property owner's ability to develop their land.

Commissioner Jack Walker, who has been a strong supporter of Measure 37, said he worries the Legislature is attempting to weaken the property rights initiative.

At the same time, the Legislature is trying to make it easier to build a few houses on some parcels regardless of whether they qualify for a Measure 37 claim. Walker said this effort might appease a certain percentage of voters, but he said it's another example of a Legislature that doesn't care about the voters who approved Measure 37, which offers much broader property-rights relief.

"I think it's a shame that we have a makeup of legislators in Salem that haven't got that message," he said.

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