For a lot of people, Measure 37 is a legal abstraction. For us, it means 215 nearby acres of farmland may become a subdivision. These rolling hills along Liberty Road about five miles south of the Salem city limits currently are zoned EFU (exclusive farm use).
If the Measure 37 applicants have their way 80 homes will be built and 80 wells will be dug in an area that already is designated as groundwater limited. I call that eventuality AFU (all...up; you can guess the rest of the acronym).
Recently we got a phone call from a neighbor who adjoins this proposed development. He told us that the main spring which feeds the creek that flows into Spring Lake isn't flowing this year. And it didn't flow last year. A long-time resident of our area said that this is the first time in thirty years the spring has gone dry.
The cross-hatched area on this map is the proposed Measure 37 subdivision. The AR (acreage residential) area below is Spring Lake Estates. Our two lots form the triangle (^) in the bottom left corner of the map.
The lots in our part of Spring Lake Estates average about five acres in size. Hydrologists say that five acres is needed to support one well in this SGO-5 (Sensitive Groundwater Overlay-5 acres) area of the south Salem hills.
But some property owners have been allowed to partition their lots into parcels as small as 1.5 or 2 acres. Quite a few of the lots immediately below the crosshatching have come into being through this sort of partitioning. We and other concerned Spring Lake Estates residents have tried to stop Marion County from allowing these small lots.
Mostly, we've failed. The county has ruled that lots near the boundary of Spring Lake Estates, where AR zoning adjoins EFU zoning, will have enough water because houses can't be built on farmland. Yet now the county is being asked to approve a Measure 37 waiver that would put 80 homes and 80 wells on the same land that, it was assumed, would remain undeveloped and supply much of the water for people on the edge of Spring Lake Estates.
I realize that all of this zoning/land use talk can sound dry and complicated. It comes down, though, to some simple facts. The springs that feed Spring Creek lie along the AR-EFU boundary line. Those springs already have dried up, probably partially because of a lack of rainfall and partially because of the extra houses that have been built nearby on newly partitioned lots.
Without Spring Creek there will be no Spring Lake. This is common property that belongs to all 86 property owners in Spring Lake Estates. Everyone who lives here loves Spring Lake. And if push comes to shove, I think people will fight for Spring Lake (it has senior water rights).
Adding 80 homes in an area where groundwater already is in short supply is crazy. The zoning and planning in our rural south Salem neighborhood was predicated on the small acreage lots being balanced by surrounding farmland. Yet now the Measure 37 applicants, Leroy and Jean Laack and Margaret Rainone, want to be exempted from the land use rules that protect the livability of an area where hundreds of people already have homes.
Here's all it takes to ask for $17,355,000 from Marion County under a Measure 37 claim. A couple of pages, plus some supporting documentation. The applicants figure that the land is worth $18,000,000 without those nasty land use regulations, while now it is valued at only $645,000. Hence, give us a check for the $17+ million or waive the regulations.
What a farce. There's no easy way to tell what the 215 acres is worth as a subdivision. It certainly isn't $18 million. The applicant came up with that figure by multiplying an average sales price of $225,000 per 2-3.5 acre lot by 80 lots. Voila, a value of $18 million. However, the cost of development hasn't been factored in: attorney and surveyor fees, road construction, planning, marketing, and so on.
This ridiculously inaccurate estimate matches the inherent ridiculousness of Measure 37 itself: Voters were told that government should compensate people for a reduction in property values caused by land use regulations, but the backers of Measure 37 never intended that such compensation would occur. Instead, they wanted Measure 37 to be a vehicle for dismantling Oregon's successful land use planning system.
And they also falsely implied that most applicants under Measure 37 would be individuals who wanted to build a single house on land that the government had taken away from them.â Now we're seeing the truth come out: attempts to build 215 acre subdivisions on farmland.
Today Laurel learned from Marion County that there are some problems with the application and that it might not be approved. We can only hope.