City Commissioner Sam Adams was having none of it.
Sitting in council chambers last Wednesday, Adams stared at an elderly man who was struggling to make his case. The man, Lowell Patton, wanted to develop his property—wooded acreage that hugs Boones Ferry Road and nestles near Lewis and Clark College.
Patton's attorney plainly stated that Measure 37 gave his client a valid claim to bypass land-use ordinances—and, if the city refused to waive those environmental protections, Patton's attorney argued, the city needed to pony up $1.3 million to compensate the landowner. It was exactly the type of blackmail that land-use advocates had warned about a year ago when Measure 37 passed.
Under the ballot measure, as long as a resident owned property before certain land-use protections were put in place, he can claim that those regulations have taken value away from his property. In response, the city or county has two choices—either waive the regulation or pay the claimant.
But Adams dug his heels in and began punching holes in Patton's claim. The elderly man said that he had owned the tract of land since 1973 and that regulations were only put in place in 1991. But there was a hitch: As collateral on a loan, he temporarily transferred the property to someone else in the late '80s. Although Patton apparently retained possession, by transferring the deed it was possible that he had relinquished his opportunity for a Measure 37 claim. It was a technical point, but it gave city council a chance to unanimously shoot down Patton's claim.
A few dozen residents have made Measure 37 claims and tried to force the city to allow them to develop their property. But quietly—and as often as possible—city council has been quashing those claims.
In October, a Marion County judge ruled that Measure 37 is unconstitutional. The case has been appealed to the Supreme Court, but until they issue a ruling, city councils outside Marion County are on their own to decide how to handle Measure 37 claims.
Last Wednesday's city council session ended when the commissioners were forced to yield to another claim. In that instance, a resident from Southwest Portland demanded that the city allow him to build five feet closer to a stream—or pay him $980,000. City council voted 5-0 to waive the regulation.