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Know the West

Oregon has been mis-zoned

  Dear HCN,

Rebecca's Clarren article about Oregon's 30-year-old land-use system was well-done and covered many of the pluses and minuses (HCN, 11/25/02: Shadow creatures). However, it did not include some basic statistics that reveal the widespread mis-zoning imposed on rural landowners throughout the state.

The reality is that 97 percent of all rural private land was zoned into highly restrictive "farm" and "forest" zones with little or no regard to the productivity of the land for such purposes, to "highest and best use," or to the rights of landowners. The 1973 law that established the system indicated one of the objectives was to preserve "prime" farmland - roughly 2 million acres. But, as the law was implemented, 16 million acres were zoned "exclusive farm use," of which less than 5 million acres were cultivated farmland - which means that over 11 million acres of land that is suitable only for grazing at best, is off-limits to other uses. An additional 9 million acres were zoned "forest," much of which has little or no value for forest purposes.

To make matters worse, despite legislative intent in 1973 to require compensation to landowners who lost value from downzoning, no compensation program was ever put in place.

No landowners have ever been compensated for what they lost from the massive downzoning that occurred.

During their efforts to defeat Measure 7, an initiative that would have required compensation, proponents of the system claimed that the liability of state and local governments from compensation claims would be $5 billion per year - which, if true, reveals the huge losses both private landowners and the public suffer from the system. Fortunately for landowners and the public, Measure 7 allowed governments to avoid liability for claims by removing restrictive regulations.

Bill Moshofsky Tigard, Oregon

The writer is vice president of Oregonians In Action.