Prineville could pay state’s first M37 claim

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: October 17. 2006 5:00AM PST

The first Measure 37 claim filed in Prineville has left the city with two unappealing options: allow the owner to build a house on the edge of the rimrock or pay him as much as $195,000.

Grover Palin, an 80-year-old man who bought the land in question in 1963, filed a claim in November to build a house on the rimrock that could be in full view of much of the city.

The Crook County-Prineville Area Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 1978, requires all buildings to be set back at least 200 feet from the rimrock edge.

City officials said in an Oct. 10 staff report that “the rimrock would be almost permanently visually scarred by a single housing structure.”

Ross Day, director of legal affairs for Oregonians in Action, the property-rights group that wrote Measure 37, said that if Prineville decides to compensate Palin for his land, it would be a statewide first.

“I think that’s Measure 37 working at its best,” Day said. “(If) the community decides they want their landscape to look a certain way, they have the option of basically buying up the property owner’s development rights.”

The Prineville City Council will hold a special session tonight to continue a public hearing on the issue. Mayor Mike Wendel said he expects the council to make a decision today.

The city brought the Measure 37 claim upon itself when it annexed about 200 “island” properties – pockets of county land within Prineville city limits – in March. Palin originally filed his claim with Crook County in November, when his property was still in an unincorporated area.

“When we annex, we take whatever baggage the property comes with,” Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham said. “In most cases, it’s just broken sewer systems and bad streets. In this case, it was a Measure 37 claim.”

Palin wants to build a house for himself and his wife, Edith, on the property, along with a storage shed. He said that because he may have to sell the house in the future, he would build at least a three-bedroom residence, but he hasn’t had any plans drawn up while he waits for the council’s decision.

Palin’s 15.67-acre parcel of land starts at the bottom of the grade in the Crestview area of Prineville and extends up the hill and over the top of the rimrock. The claim concerns only the 2.04 acres on top of the rimrock.

Palin and his wife currently live with their daughter on a separate property at the bottom of the grade.

“We found that piece of property up above the rim and saw the beautiful view (and) we thought, ‘Someday we’ll build a house up there,'” Palin said. “My wife and I have been working pretty hard, and then finally here a couple, three years ago, we decided we’ll do it.”

The 2-acre triangular area on top of the rimrock leaves only a small section of the property that is more than 200 feet from the edge.

Palin said he only wants to build a house for himself on land he has owned for more than 40 years. Unlike some other landowners who have filed Measure 37 claims around the state, he does not intend to subdivide his property and build multiple homes.

“I don’t want (the city’s) money. All I want to do is build a house on my property,” he said. “What’s this world coming to if you can’t build a house on your property?”

Under the provisions of Measure 37, if a claim is found to be valid, a government entitiy can either suspend its land use regulations or compensate the property owner for the loss of value to his or her land resulting from the inability to build. Palin hired an appraiser, who set the value at $195,000; the city then decided to get a second appraisal, which came in at between $59,900 and $65,000.

The Prineville City Council has discussed four options so far: exempt Palin from the land use regulations and allow him to build within 200 feet of the rimrock edge; pay him for the development value; negotiate an agreement with Crook County to allow Palin to build on county-owned land adjoining his property; or “trade” a piece of land owned by Prineville to Palin for his rimrock property. However, the last two options have significant barriers, and Gillham, the assistant city manager, said waiving the regulations or compensating Palin “are basically their two core options.”

The council decided at an earlier hearing that there is enough money, either in the general fund or in the funding for the city of Prineville Railway, to cover a cost of $195,000. Day, of Oregonians for Action, said Measure 37 requires a special fund to be set up for paying claims.

Measure 37 also sets a deadline for governments to make a decision. The deadline is 180 days from when the claim is filed, after which the government is required to pay the property owner for the difference in land value. Because the property was annexed from the county, the date of the claim’s being filed was set at May 1. City Councilor Bobbi Young said the council has guaranteed the Palins a decision by Oct. 24.

Palin said that he is trying to work with the council members but that he is starting to think they are “stringing me along.”

“I’m trying to get along with everybody and do it as easy as we can as long as I can use my property any way I want,” he said. “I’ve paid taxes (on the land) since May 1963, and then all at once for them to be telling me it’s not my property anymore, I don’t like it.”

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