October 15, 2005
Hood River County has doubled its fees for processing development applications brought by a successful Measure 37 claim.
Steven Andersen, a consultant who has helped 31 property owners prepare claims, strongly objects to the new fees. He said landowners with Measure 37 claims have already been forced to spend time and money to restore a development right taken away by a government agency. To further burden them monetarily, according to Andersen, is both unfair and inequitable.
“I think this is punitive. It’s a way for the county to generate some extra income off these people who are trying to regain the land value that they lost because of some regulation,” he said.
Two weeks ago, the Hood River County Commissioners raised the subdivision processing fee for Measure 37 landowners from $850 to $1,700. The additional $25 charge per lot was hiked to $50.
All other fees associated with these applications were also doubled.
Dave Meriwether, county administrator, said the fees were changed to cover the cost of staff time spent on research associated with these complex applications.
“The changes are based on the recognition that there’s going to be substantial work involved in most cases to re-apply standards that are no longer in effect,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult to come up with a uniform approval. We’re pretty much going to have to re-create the analysis each time.”
Andersen, who owns Cascade Planning Associates in Mosier, said that justification is unfounded.
He said once the original development right has been restored by a Measure 37 claim, a subsequent land-use application can be reviewed by the ordinances in effect when the property was acquired.
“How much time does it take to reach up and grab a different book? That certainly doesn’t justify a doubling of the fees,” he said.
Mike Benedict, county planning director, said it is not that simple.
He said some laws in place at the time of ownership were later changed by a successful legal challenge.
In addition, he said, a determination has to be made over what public health and safety standards are applicable to a Measure 37 development. And all of that research, said Benedict, will require significantly more work from his staff.
Oregonians in Action (OIA), the authors of Measure 37, are also questioning the motivation behind the county’s action.
Bill Moshofsky, president of OIA’s legal defense center, said government agencies have attempted to throw up numerous roadblocks in the last year to discourage landowners from pursuing a Measure 37 development.
He said officials, for the first time in decades, now have to take private property rights into consideration when enacting a new rule.
But many jurisdictions — and he hopes that Hood River County is not on that list — appear to be more interested in circumventing the law than respecting the will of voters.
“Measure 37 is really very simple. All the law does is remove certain regulations so you don’t have to worry about them any more. They are gone. I don’t see how the county can justify any extra effort. And to have a blanket increase in fees without looking at individual cases seems arbitrary and capricious,” Moshofsky said.
In November of 2004, Measure 37 received a yes vote approaching a 61 percent margin statewide and 53 percent in Hood River County. Under the new law, which went into effect on Dec. 2, 2004, public agencies are required to pay landowners for devaluing property with regulations. In lieu of compensation, the agencies may remove the restriction on development rights held by the owner at the time of acquisition.
In the last 10 months, landowners within the county have filed 44 claims totaling about 1,800 acres, mostly involving farm land. Two of these claims were denied outright because they were located within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and deemed to be under federal jurisdiction.
Measure 37 does not apply to regulations required by federal law or rules enacted to protect public health and safety.
The county has set a policy to waive regulations on all qualifying claims instead of paying compensation.
Andersen learned about the fee increase when he visited the county planning department last week. He was preparing to set up a conference for the first local development application resulting from a Measure 37 claim.
His clients, Joe and Nadine Holt, want to divide their 18.69- acre property along Highway 35 into 10 lots. That would bring less development than the Holts were allowed at the time their holdings were purchased in 1965.
At that time, they had rights to a conditional use permit for 30 or more manufactured homes on the acreage.
Following the enactment of Measure 37 last December, the Holts sought to remove a regulation from 1980 that restricted their property to exclusive farm use.
The county and state have removed that restriction, and Andersen said the Holts are ready to move forward with their plans.
“I’m hoping that I can achieve for my clients a painless experience and that the county will be treating us all fairly,” said Andersen. “They don’t seem to be starting out on a very good foot in that respect given this fee business.”