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A late hour land rush

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

December 9, 2006

Hood River County planners are digging out from desks buried by yellow folders from a rush of last-minute Measure 37 claim filings.

On Dec. 2, the deadline passed for landowners to more easily seek restored development rights.

The process, now that the two-year mark has been reached since Measure 37 became law, has grown more complex.

To avoid any problem in filing claims, landowners began hurrying to submit requests in November. The second floor planning office at the county administration building became a Measure 37 hub of activity.

By Dec 4, the county had date-stamped 168 claims for 2006, more than double the number filed the previous year. Almost 7,000 of the valley’s 31,310 acres of farm land have now come under Measure 37 reviews. And claims have been filed for slightly more than 3,000 of the 217,270 acres of forest. The remainder of filings includes a mix of industrial, commercial and residential parcels.

Mike Benedict, county planning director, said that workload has placed his office under more pressure than ever. He said Measure 37 — which was approved by a supermajority of voters in 2004 — requires government agencies to render a decision on a claim within 180 days. If that timeline is not met, the landowner can take his/her case to court and seek attorney fees.

“We were already busy processing claims when 96 new ones came in during the last month. Now we have six months to get all of those done. It is an understatement to say that our workload has increased significantly,” said Benedict.

He said it would not be surprising to see officials at some level of government asking the legislature to grant a time extension for decisions on last-minute filings.

“I think that people putting in claims during the past month probably aren’t interested in getting a development right away. So, they probably won’t mind waiting a little longer for a decision,” said Benedict.

Statewide, 6,500 claims have now been filed involving less than 1 percent of the total land mass.

Although the number of filings is expected to slow, claims can still be submitted for past regulatory actions. But the state has changed the rules for how these filings will be processed.

The new guidelines trump Hood River County’s attempt to save landowners both money and bureaucratic hurdles.

According to Measure 37, claims can be filed on an ongoing basis within two years of an agency imposing a regulation that devalues the property by taking away its use.

So, with a literal interpretation of that language, Hood River County essentially set no deadline for claims from past actions. Benedict said the local process was set up so a landowner could submit a written request for a former development right. Then a ministerial letter of denial would be issued based on current standards.

Benedict said that process saved property owners from paying the standard fee — $2,500 for a subdivision — and going through the entire review, notification and hearing protocol for something that wasn’t going to be approved.

“The law was pretty clear so we were trying to save people from having to jump through unnecessary hoops,” he said.

However, the Department of Administrative Services, which handles Measure 37 claims for state land-use rules, will not accept that methodology. DAS now rejects claims unless the property holder has gone through the entire permitting process and been denied a use or subjected to unwanted conditions.

Benedict said that decision is likely to triple the development fees for local Measure 37 landowners. Not only will a claimant pay the initial application fee but, if he/she is successful with a claim, the county has doubled the price for Measure 37 development plans to cover the cost of staff time.

Currently, Benedict said 20 pre-application conferences have taken place for Measure 37 developments. But, to date, only seven landowners have submitted plans for review, and none of these were for major housing projects.

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