When voters in Oregon recently approved significant changes in
the state's unique land-use law, many property owners won an
important victory. Now, local officials must either compensate
owners for regulations that reduce a property's value or waive those
But approval of the controversial ballot measure here also
signals what is likely to be a nationwide examination of government
efforts to prevent sprawl, preserve farmland, and protect vistas.
This is especially true since Measure 37, as it was called,
parallels the growing effort to change the federal Endangered
Species Act in order to give more slack to farmers, developers, and
other private property owners.
"I believe that Measure 37 or variations of it will soon sprout
in other states," says Dave Hunnicutt, executive director for
Oregonians In Action, the property rights group that successfully
convinced 60 percent of voters here to approve it and now is getting
calls from around the country. "It represents the chance to prove
that you can achieve a balance between good land-use planning and
the protection of people's rights and investment in their land."
Other property rights advocates agree, although they warn of a
backlash if the public perceives that a few landowners are
responsible for spoiling the landscape. Most people still don't like
developments where cows used to graze.
"If other private property groups don't get greedy and don't go
too far, my guess is they will have some success," predicts Chuck
Cushman, founder of the American Land Rights Association in
At the base is the longstanding debate over individual rights
versus the public good.
Former Gov. Tom McCall (R) warned the state legislature in 1973
that "coastal condomania, sagebrush subdivisions, and the ravenous
rampage of suburbia ... all threaten to mock Oregon's status as the
environmental model of this nation."
That year, Oregon enacted requirements that local plans meet
statewide growth and planning goals. Several years later, a Land Use
Board of Appeals was created to settle local land use disputes. Over
the years, nearly a dozen states (among them, Florida, Georgia,
Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, and Washington) adopted strong land use laws
Meanwhile, state and federal courts began ruling in cases
involving the "taking" of private property through government
restrictions on what the owner could do with the land. …