A LAND-USE BILL THAT went into effect in Oregon on Dec. 8 shouldn't have a major impact on residential development there. But in a state where land is a “theological” issue, no measure can ever completely settle the debate about its use.

That's the assessment of Jon Chandler, CEO of the Oregon HBA, about Measure 49, which Oregon voters approved in November to fix flaws in another bill, Measure 37, which voters had overwhelmingly approved in 2004. Under Measure 37, local governments have to compensate property owners if zoning restrictions devalue land purchased prior to the adoption of those regulations. That law turned into a litigious free-for-all, generating more than 7,500 claims on 750,000 acres. Measure 49 expedites approval for landowners with valid claims that want to build one to three houses. It also makes construction of four to 10 houses more complicated and prohibits landowners from putting more than 10 units on any one parcel.

The land in question falls outside of Oregon's urban growth boundary, and most of it is farms, forests, desert, or underpopulated to the point where large-scale development would be untenable. “The pro-49 people made it sound like developments were sprouting like mushrooms under 37, but in fact very little development actually happened,” says Chandler. He notes, too, that environmental and other land-use restrictions beyond these measures keep residential development in Oregon hemmed in.

Chandler is watching whether passage of 49 results in the refunding of what's known as “The Big Look,” a task force that's charged with conducting a review of the Oregon Statewide Planning Program and making recommendations for needed changes to the 2009 legislature. “It would be a mistake if 49 passed without looking at where [agriculture] and timber fit in the future.”