Jefferson subdivision project stirs M37 debate

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: July 07. 2007 5:00AM PST

MADRAS — A new, 60-unit subdivision is in the works northeast of Madras through one of the first Measure 37 claims filed in Jefferson County.

William and Darlene Hoffman filed their claim in April 2005 for the 190-acre farm that they bought in 1972. More than two years later, the county and state have waived the land use regulations on their property, but the Hoffmans are still going through the process of applying for a subdivision.

The project has some neighbors up in arms over the idea of 60 houses in the middle of farmland.

William Hoffman said he is planning to put in 60 lots of at least 2 acres in size, but he is waiting for the county to approve his plat, or chart, for the subdivision. According to an appraisal prepared for his Measure 37 claim, each lot could be worth between $60,000 and $75,000, putting the property’s total value at $3.6 million to $4.5 million.

Last week, Jefferson County issued a stop work order on an ornamental gate that the Hoffmans were erecting at the entrance to the property.

Hoffman said he was not aware that he needed a building permit to put up a gateway.

“Until my plat’s signed, I still have farmland, so I didn’t figure that I need a permit,” he said.

Jefferson County Counsel David Allen said a gate taller than 6 feet is considered to be a structure and, therefore, needs a building permit. He added that Hoffman obtained the permit this week.

Hoffman, 78, said he has done some farming on about 50 acres of his land in the past, but his career was as a builder. He said he has been working on putting roads in the property.

Allen said that caused some concern with the county when it looked like Hoffman has pushed some dirt into a canyon with a creek at the bottom, which led to a visit from staff with the Department of State Lands. But he added that it is legal for Hoffman to begin grading roads and moving dirt around before the county has approved his subdivision plat.

“He has the appropriate county permit to do some grading … We’re going to need to approve where the roads do go based on design criteria of slopes and width and run-outs before you access county roads,” Allen said. “I’ve explained to Mr. Hoffman that he needs to be somewhat careful that he does not get ahead of himself. If he was laying out gravel or asphalt, we might be a little bit more concerned.”

The subdivision application has had an initial review that led to some concerns — mostly concerning roads — that the county sent back to Hoffman, Allen said.

The voter-approved property rights law said governments either must compensate landowners when land use laws hurt their property value, or else waive restrictions and allow development to occur. Because of criticism that the bill was poorly written, the Legislature is floating a more-restrictive version of Measure 37 that will go before voters this fall.

Allen said the county has decided to handle Measure 37 claims involving subdivisions in the same way as it handles other subdivisions that developers apply to build in Jefferson County.

“We have taken the position that they still need to come through our subdivision committee and comply with health and safety regulations before their plat can be approved,” he said.

Hoffman said he thinks the process for obtaining the subdivision approval should have been straightforward once the land use regulations were waived under Measure 37.

“I’m just following the rules — health and safety’s all that I’m supposed to be meeting — and my project, so far it’s all been laid out for safety. The intersections are squared off and everything, (the) stop signs aren’t in yet, but they’ll be going in at the proper places,” he said. “They are handling it just like a regular subdivision — I’ve been a builder for 50 years, I know what’s going on.”

Jarold Ramsey, who owns property adjacent to Hoffman’s, sent a letter to the county and state along with other family members calling the proposed subdivision “unacceptable on economic, social, agricultural and environmental grounds.” In an interview this week, Ramsey said it seems that Hoffman is proceeding with construction before he has received all the proper approvals from the county.

“It looks as if he’s going right ahead with all the preparations to get this project finished well before he has his final application reviewed and approved by the county,” Ramsey said. He added that he intends to speak up in opposition to the development when the county holds public hearings on it.

Ramsey added that he is concerned about the number of cars a 60-house subdivision would add to the local access road, as well as the location of septic systems for the subdivision.

“I don’t plan to live with a town of 60 lots over my back fence in what has been historically farmland — my family has had this land since 1938,” said Ramsey, who added that he moved back to the area after retiring as a professor at the University of Rochester in New York. “If something like Hoffmans’ is approved then that land will be withdrawn from farming and any other use of the sagebrush land, including just leaving it alone, you know, will be lost forever, there’s no doubt about it.”

Hoffman said that the drawn-out process of filing the Measure 37 claim and applying for a subdivision has been “frustrating,” but he hopes to proceed with construction soon.

“The thing of it is, the people that have these Measure 37 claims are all older people,” he said. “They just are not listening to Measure 37 … So that’s the reason I just said, ‘To heck with it, I’m just going to go ahead .’”

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