Oregon Could Use Land Use Reforms

Article excerpt

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Bill Moshofsky For The Register-Guard

As the state's economy continues to stagnate, and as state and local governments struggle with budget shortfalls, it's time to recognize that some of these woes have been self-inflicted. We have continued to hobble our citizens with a land use regulatory system that outlaws or stifles economic activities in both rural and urban areas. We have ignored the fact that land is a great economic resource.

Unfortunately, Oregon's much heralded "land use planning" system is mostly about restrictions, regulations, and preservation - not planning. The current system is driven by two primary objectives. One is preserving "open space" in rural Oregon under the guise of preserving farm and forest land, and by outlawing almost all development. The other is "urban containment," which forces existing cities to build up, not out - and prohibits establishing new cities.

Amazingly, there has never been an economic study to determine the financial impact of land use regulations. Like most government bureaucracies, once in place, no one questions the efficacy of their programs or looks at the consequences.

Back when Measure 7 was being debated (a measure approved in 2000 but invalidated by the courts that would have required governments to pay property owners for loss of use and value caused by certain types of land use regulations), opponents claimed the cost to governments required to pay such claims would exceed $5 billion per year. If that's true, it means that our current system of land use restrictions is destroying more than $5 billion in economic value per year. A staggering sum! When you add to this figure the economic value of potential job creation and other activity that new development would provide, the amount of economic loss to our state is almost incomprehensible.

Consider the impact of farm and forest "goals" adopted by the state Land Conservation & Development Commission. Most Oregonians don't realize that, under these goals, more than 97 percent of all private rural land has been zoned into highly restrictive "exclusive farm use" and forest zones, with no regard for the actual productivity of the land, economics or the rights of landowners. …