Measure 37 Makes Couple's Dream Home Possible
By Rob Manning
YAMHILL, OR (2006-07-25) Since Oregonians approved Ballot Measure 37 a year ago November, more than 2000 claims have come in from property owners hoping to avoid regulations enacted after they bought their land.
Property owners have to show that the new rules have impaired their land's value.
Most of the time, they're able to do that, and government officials respond by waiving land use rules. But very few of the property owners have actually turned approved claims into the houses or subdivisions that they got the zoning changes for.
Rob Manning visited an exception to the rule in Yamhill County.
The afternoon sun beats down on a sloping hayfield roughly halfway between Newberg and the town of Yamhill. Patty Hottman is looking out on rolling hills, dotted with old barns and tractors.
Patty Hottman: "They call it the Chehalem Valley, which is a lot of farmland, a lot of wineries, of course, and grape land has gone up, a lot of grass seed. It's really pretty much a farming community, which we knew coming in."
Patty and Gregg Hottman bought these 42 acres in 1992. After clearing out the resident blackberries, they started growing oat hay, and grazing cattle. But when they wanted to build a house a couple years later, they ran into a problem.
Patty Hottman: "We did absolutely everything we should have done. We went to the environmentalists, we went to geologists, we went to the soil, everybody, to figure out what we needed to do. We submitted our farm plans and the day before the land use laws changed, and absolutely shut us down."
Technically, it was a regulation not a law that changed. In 1994, the Land Conservation and Development Commission required that high value farmland, like the Hottmans', show at least $80,000 of farm income, before the property owners could build a home. The goal was to protect Oregon's agricultural economy by making sure good farmland didn't turn into large-lot mansions.
Sid Friedman is with 1000 Friends of Oregon's Willamette Valley chapter. He says before that rule there were few safeguards.
Sid Friedman: "Someone would say well yeah I want to develop this land, I've got this plan, I'm going to plant some blueberry bushes,' or whatever, and then they'd let er rip and send in the bulldozers. Come to pass, a few years later, that property was converted into residential use without any farm activity - and that's a story that was repeated throughout the valley.
Leslie Lewis was a state representative from Yamhill County when the rule was adopted. She says it was widely unpopular among new homeowners, like Gregg and Patty Hottman.
Leslie Lewis: "I chaired the committee that dealt with land use and this is the kind of horror story I heard repeatedly sitting in those committee hearing rooms from people and Hottmans' were one of the cases I was aware of back then."
The Hottmans' case went all the way to the state Supreme Court, where the high court sided with 1000 Friends of Oregon, forbidding the house.
Patty Hottman says over the years that followed, they balanced cattle ranching with their day jobs in Lake Oswego - where Patty works as a teacher, and Gregg as an insurance agent. Then Measure 37 passed in November 2004. The Hottmans were among the first to file a claim.
Patty Hottman: "Gregg and I have done our research, we've done all the background, we knew what had to be done up here. So when Measure 37 passed, we were ready. We jumped on it, we knew what the county wanted, we knew what the state wanted. We'd done so much research prior to Measure 37, that when it came along, we were ready."
Former state representative Leslie Lewis now chairs the Yamhill County Commission. And she says she was happy to rule on the Hottmans' claim.
Leslie Lewis: "This is exactly what I thought Measure 37 would do - would be to allow these people who have waited all these years to be able to build a dream home, and now they're going to get to do it."
Of course it's not quite that easy. Measure 37 changes the zoning - but it doesn't allow claimants to get around all the health and safety building codes.
They still need to find water, and provide for sewage and emergency access.
Patty Hottman: "This is the new road and they really had to build it up due to - you can only have a certain amount of grade you know, for the fire trucks. So they really had to build it up for the fire trucks to be able to get up here in case of an emergency. So you can see here where it dips down, and it's been through the rainy, rainy season, so we feel like it's going to be around for a while. And Gregg just put up this fencing for the cattle..."
At the house site itself, the foundation is about ready to go in for what will be one of the state's first new houses allowed by Measure 37. But completion may be years away.
The Hottmans are building their four-bedroom home without financing. That's partly because court challenges have made banks leery of investing in Measure 37 properties.
For folks who don't have savings, or the skills to do the work, lack of financing could stop things cold.
Another reason that the Hottmans are one of the few families building is that their case involves just one house. Many others involve sub-dividing property, and those require extra steps, that take even more time.
© Copyright 2006, OPB