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Since You Asked: Measure 37/49 stories leave emigre befuddled

I will be moving to Southern Oregon soon and am reading the Mail Tribune to learn about the politics, culture and general news topics in my new home. While I've truly enjoyed much of the newswriting in the paper (I love "Since You Asked"), there is one story (Measure 37/49) I am struggling to follow because the reporter is leaving out some basic information for those of us who are not landowners or legislators.

What the heck is property vesting? And in plain language what do measures 37 and 49 do? Also what is the impact of these laws on the community as a whole?

I'm sure this is a very complex topic and the details hard to follow but it seems to be a very important issue that I would like very much to understand.

— Jen J., Nashville, Tenn. (but is movingto Shady Cove)

We're glad the paper is getting you up to speed. Just don't judge us by our online discussion forums, especially on such hot-button issues. That's the Wild West, Jen, and we're much nicer than that in person.

Even the experts are having a tough time with the vesting issue, Jen. To sum up the situation, measures 37 and 49 are part of a long-running tug of war between property rights advocates and those who want to limit growth, preserve farmland and protect the environment.

"Vesting" is a legal term that confers rights to property owners that allow them to continue with a project granted under Measure 37, even if the latest change in law would preclude the project. It's sort of like becoming vested in a pension when you've worked for an employer for a certain period.

Measure 37, passed in 2004, allows longtime landowners to develop their property as they could have before modern development restrictions came about, or provides compensation for property value lost to those restrictions. The land-use laws were designed generally to preserve farm and forest land and to prevent sprawl (or deny property owners their God-given right to pursue happiness — it depends who you ask). Property owners, particularly in more rural areas, said their land values declined because of the land use changes. In some cases, a property owner couldn't build a second house on a 100-acre parcel because of the zoning restrictions. Measure 37 sought to correct this situation by giving property owners the option to seek waivers of land-use restrictions.

However, critics charged Measure 37 would encourage sprawl and destroy farmland, particularly after large tracts of land received waivers that would have allowed subdivisions. Voters took notice of these waivers and overturned Measure 37 in November 2007 with Measure 49.

The new measure allows some property owners to continue building or pursuing a project already granted under Measure 37. For instance, if a property owner had made a substantial effort to build a house under a Measure 37 waiver, that property owner could continue to build. But, if a property owner had received only a waiver but had done nothing else, then they couldn't build.

The county is creating criteria based on legal precedents to determine which Measure 37 claimants can continue to pursue their projects. If property owners prove they have made a substantial effort toward building a project, their rights to continue building would be "vested."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.