When the Oregon Supreme Court ruled last week to uphold Measure 37, environmentalists and land use activists shat a collective brick. The measure—and the high court's sanctioning of it—could gut local and state governments' smart-growth land use planning and environmental regulations.
Measure 37, which was overwhelmingly passed by Oregon voters in 2004, allows landowners to file claims seeking a payoff or waiver if regulations caused a loss in property value. But the doomsday scenario may be a little farfetched, particularly for Portland: The city still has some tricks up its sleeve. In other words, Portland won't become Beaverton just yet.
Chris Dearth, the city's M37 program manager, says current zoning regulations have enough flexibility to allow some claimants to do what they want with their land—without gutting laws. (The planning bureau processes the claims; the city council makes the ultimate decision.)
"At city council's direction, we're trying to negotiate [with landowners] through existing regulations," Dearth explained. So far, out of a total of 26 claims against the city, four have been negotiated away.
Barring negotiations, the city still has a great deal of leverage in simply denying claims. Seven claims against environmental regulations have been sent packing—the laws, the city argues, are there for public health and safety, and are therefore exempt from M37.
"Some of those might end up in court, but I'm pretty sure the city will be upheld," Dearth said.
The city council has also shot down four claims based on Portland's controversial billboard regulations. Commissioners argued that when voters passed M37, their intent was not to allow gargantuan urban billboards.
Lastly, Dearth says, Portland will largely be unaffected by M37 for the simple fact that the city is already developed to near capacity. He doesn't expect claims for large-scale housing developments and strip malls that could reshape much of the state.