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Washington next in property rights wars

More than four-dozen vehicles drove through downtown Seattle Tuesday, Nov. 23, 24004 to protest land-use regulation under the Critical Areas Ordinance.

04:50 PM PST on Tuesday, February 21, 2006

SEATTLE –  After an Oregon high court ruling Tuesday on Measure 37 appears to have turned that state’s system of land use regulations on its head, there’s every reason to believe Washington could be next.

“We’re certainly pleased to see that the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the people of Oregon’s right to use the initiative process to uphold their property rights,” said Dean Boyer, a spokesman for the Washington Farm Bureau.

The Bureau is the sponsor of Initiative 933, the “Property Fairness Initiative”, which, like Oregon’s measure 37, would allow property owners to demand compensation or a waiver from land-use regulations that affect the value of their property.

The measure would allow such claims for all land-use regulations enacted since 1996. The initiative has not received an official ballot title from the Secretary of State so no signatures have been gathered yet.

But Initiative 933 has already found opposition from environmental groups Futurewise – formerly 1,000 Friends of Washington - and the Community Protection Coalition.

Futurewise director Aaron Ostrom called the Oregon ruling “a big win for developers.”

“It does mean that the horror stories that Measure 37 was creating in Oregon will continue unabated,” he said, referring to existing proposals to build casinos or subdivisions on farmland where such development was previously prohibited.

“I don’t think people had any idea what this did when they voted on it,” Ostrom said.

The Oregon measure approved overwhelmingly in the fall of 2004 requires governments to pay landowners for property value losses caused by regulations, or to waive the regulation and let the owner develop the property.

With virtually no money to pay for the cost of such losses, most governments are opting to waive the regulations.

Government land use laws, such as buffer requirements, habitat designations or zoning restrictions, can impact the value of land, especially for farmers who maximize the use of that territory for crops.

But such regulations can go further: building-height limits, for example, could cap a property's full potential.

Up until this point, Oregon’s land use restrictions had been among the strictest in the nation, with one goal being the prevention of sprawl by focusing development inside already built-up areas.

Washington’s land use laws under the state Growth Management Act aim to achieve the same goal.

But the regulations that have grown out of that act have an economic impact on landowners, according to Boyer.

“If the public at large want to set aside land for wildlife habitat," Boyer asked, "then why should the individual property owner have to bear the cost?”

Boyer said Initiative 933 has three main components that make it less sweeping than the Oregon measure.

He said it requires first that governments identify problems that regulations would address before enacting them. Second, governments would be required to identify the impact of such regulations on property owners and third that they should seek a voluntary solution before adopting mandatory regulations.

Even if governments followed such a process, Boyer said, landowners would still be liable for the lost value of land due to regulation.

In November, Washington state voters are likely to choose whether or not that’s fair.

Online at: http://www.king5.com/topstories/stories/NW_022106WABinitiative933JK.4d61e555.html


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