SEVERAL YEARS AGO, Stuart Miller and his wife, Becky, bought an investment property with the intent of subdividing it. A year later, though, to protect a watershed, the City of Portland changed the zoning of the property so that it could not be subdivided. The Millers bemoaned this change, claiming this lowered their property value by $25,000.

Frustrated by what the Millers saw as the government meddling with their personal belongings, they are trying to insure that no other property in Oregon will suffer similar financial indignation. With the help of Oregon Taxpayers United, the Millers gathered enough signatures this summer to place Measure Seven on November's ballot, a bill that promises to compensate landowners when government regulation lowers their property values.

Traditionally, the so-called "takings" principle has only applied to the government purchasing property for public uses such as parks, highways, and schools. But Measure Seven would widen the responsibilities of the government, paying homeowners like the Millers for their lost speculation.

Under Measure Seven, for example, if a farmer can't till a section of his land because it is designated as a wetlands, the government must pay for the lost value.

Opponents of Measure Seven say that compensating landowners for partial takings--especially for lost value that is only potential--would gut the land use planning system that has made Portland a national model for successful urban redevelopment. "Our current system is a balance between property rights and the common good," Nik Blosser, co-manager for the No on Seven campaign, explained. "If I wanted to build a convenience store [under Measure Seven] or auto body shop next to you, you'd have to pay me not to do it."

The State estimates it would cost state and local governments $5.4 billion each year to compensate landowners for every zoning decision or land use limitation--roughly equivalent to the State of Oregon's yearly general fund budget.