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61% of voters favor 49's effort to 'fix' Measure 37

PORTLAND — Oregonians voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to restore some of the controls on development of farms and forests that they rejected in 2004, but supporters and opponents alike said the battle over land-use planning is far from over.

Measure 49 was passing with 61 percent in favor after 67 percent of the projected vote was counted.

Support was strongest in counties in the Portland metropolitan area, and weakest in conservative and rural Eastern and Southern Oregon. Rural counties experiencing growing pains, such as Deschutes and Hood River, tended to support the measure.

In Jackson County, 22,367 or about 41 percent of voters were in favor, 32,441 or about 59 percent opposed.

Measure 49 was referred to the voters by the Legislature to fix the property rights law known as Measure 37, which voters adopted overwhelmingly after decades of anger and resentment over land-use laws that won Oregon a green reputation but strictly limited development on farm and forest lands.

"They made the decision, 'This wasn't what we were buying,' when they voted on Measure 37 and they wanted it changed," said Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Jeremiah Baumann, a lobbyist for Environment Oregon and spokesman for Yes on 49, said there was a unique partnership in support of Measure 49 between environmental groups and farm organizations, and as a result the rural-urban split often seen in Oregon elections was less clear-cut.

Widely seen as a way to restore fairness, Measure 37 allowed property owners to seek compensation if land-use actions imposed after they bought property reduced its value and restricted its use. Governments facing Measure 37 claims must either pay compensation or waive the regulations.

However, the law proved to be unwieldy and confusing, and generated more than 7,500 claims on 750,000 acres, with development proposals ranging from a single house to large subdivisions.

Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith said the defeat of Measure 49 will have a profound effect on Jackson County residents who have already filed Measure 37 claims.

"It means a lot of people who applied for Measure 37, around 600 people — (their) claims will have to go through the process all over again. There are a lot of procedural questions that'll be difficult for people to get through."

Smith hopes the picture will become clearer after the commissioners attend the Association of Oregon Counties meeting in Portland next week.

"Hopefully we'll know which direction to go after that," he said. "We'll do our best to try to fulfill the will of the people. We'll try to make it as easy as we can, but it won't be easy no matter how we cut it."

Measure 49 would allow rural landowners to build a few homes — three in most cases and as many as 10 for some — but curb larger subdivisions and industrial development allowed under the 2004 law.

Supporters of Measure 49 raised more than $4 million to argue that farming and Oregon's quality of life were at stake. Most of the money came from Yamhill County vineyard owner Eric Lemelson and the Nature Conservancy, which usually works behind the scenes buying property to preserve as wildlife habitat.

Brent Thompson, president of the Friends of Jackson County, said voters were looking out for Jackson County's best interests in adopting the measure.

"Passing Measure 49 will benefit Jackson County financially by preserving our farmland, forestland and wildlife habitat. It is easier to provide services in a compact area as opposed to a sprawled area."

Measure 49's defeat will keep Jackson County a livable place for the foreseeable future, Thompson said.

"We have major traffic problems because of the sprawl we already have. The passing of Measure 49 will lessen any future traffic problems we might have.

"Now that this issue is settled, maybe we can get to regional problem-solving and focus on in-fill and taking over land that is absolutely necessary to accommodate future growth."

William G. Robbins, a retired Oregon State University history professor, said land-use controls went from having bipartisan support in 1973 when the sweeping Senate Bill 100 was adopted by the Legislature, to a bitterly partisan issue when Democrats controlling the Legislature referred Measure 49 to the voters.

"The public now is alerted to the fact that it is not Dorothy English (the retired woman who was the face of the Measure 37 campaign) wanting to build a few houses on her acreage," said Robbins. "It's the big developers putting in huge projects right in the midst of small residential areas.

"I think people are alarmed about that."

While TV ads urging defeat of Measure 49 depicted elderly couples worried that the value of their property would be destroyed, the $2 million campaign was bankrolled primarily by timber companies that have filed Measure 37 claims to develop rural housing on forest lands where development has been restricted since the 1970s.

Andrew Miller, CEO of Stimson Lumber Co. in Portland, the leading contributor to the campaign to defeat Measure 49, said the issue is not going away as long as people keep moving to Oregon and many of them want a home in the country.

Miller favors a market-based system where conservation groups that want to preserve open space can buy the development rights from property owners.

"It worked really well in Oregon for the period of time the population was flat and stagnant and wasn't really growing," Miller said. "Times changed."

Kulongoski agreed that the debate will go on, perhaps forever, adding that he would revive his Big Look Taskforce to consider a comprehensive reform of land-use planning.

That idea was welcomed by Hunnicutt, who said he would be traveling the state to advise property owners of their rights under the new law.