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"Agriculture occupies half of the land mass in the U.S. and we're losing it a little bit at a time," says Don Stuart of the American Farmland Trust. "Every year, 23,000 acres of Washington State's farmland is developed every year." We're multiplying the problem, he adds, because we're fragmenting agricultural lands. The Trust estimates that the U.S. is loosing farmland at a rate two to three times greater than the rate of its population growth, at the same time the U.S. just moved from a net exporter to a net importer of food. Stuart spoke about the future of agriculture recently at the White Salmon Library. In an odd juxtaposition, on that same day, March 16, the Washington Farm Bureau launched a signature-gathering campaign to put what it has titled the Property Fairness Initiative — Initiative 933 —on the November ballot. ...

Washington Farmers Want Their Own Measure 37…Er, Initiative 933

“Agriculture occupies half of the land mass in the U.S. and we’re losing it a little bit at a time,” says Don Stuart of the American Farmland Trust. “Every year, 23,000 acres of Washington State’s farmland is developed every year.”

We’re multiplying the problem, he adds, because we’re fragmenting agricultural lands. The Trust estimates that the U.S. is loosing farmland at a rate two to three times greater than the rate of its population growth, at the same time the U.S. just moved from a net exporter to a net importer of food.

Stuart spok about the future of agriculture recently at the White Salmon Library. In an odd juxtaposition, on that same day, March 16, the Washington Farm Bureau launched a signature-gathering campaign to put what it has titled the Property Fairness Initiative — Initiative 933 —on the November ballot.

I-933 is a close cousin to Oregon’s Measure 37; both are designed to release property owners from what many consider burdensome land use regulations. Opponenents say I-933 and M-37 are really about developers seeking to blow past land laws that have kept much of the Northwest livable by limiting subdivisions and development projects on farms and forest lands. The Farm Bureau has until July 7 to gather 235,000 signatures to put I-933 on Washington’s November ballot. The initiative would require Washington’s state and local governments to either compensate landowners when land use regulations lower their property’s value, or else waive those regulations, just as Measure 37 has done in Oregon.

“Any regulations adopted since December 31, 1995 that damages or harms the value of your property by restricting how the property can be use would be subject to our initiative,” says Dean Boyer, spokesman for the Washington Farm Bureau. “Farmers are being driven off land by government regulations.”

Boyer gives an example of a government agency requiring a 300-foot buffer on either side of stream. “We’re not out to protect just farmers rights, but all people’s property rights,” he said.
         
Boyer says the initiative is not a twin to Oregon’s Measure 37 , which has so roiled Oregon’s politics. Whereas M-37 allows property owners to seek compensation for regulations enacted at any point after they purchased their property, for example, I-933 limits landowners to seeking compensation only for regulations adopted after 1995.
           
But the Community Protection Coalition, the No On I-933 Campaign, sees almost identical parallels.

“I-933 creates loopholes for irresponsible development,” say CPC campaign director Aisling Kerins. “It takes away zoning and land use laws that protect communities. It sets up a system that any time local government puts up new laws that affect the use or value of someone’s property, government know the will be forced to chose between paying the owner or exempting them from the regulation.”

Kerins cites a M-37 claim in Polk County, Oregon, for a one million square foot commercial development in the middle of “some of the best farmland,” and other large projects as the initiatives’ harmful effects. She says Oregon governments have not had the money to pay the M-37 claims and that every claim so far resulted in waiving the regulations.

And te group Futurewise (formerly 1000 Friends of Washington) alleges that I-933 is a “radical attack on our protections for clean air, clean water, working farms and thriving, livable communities.” Futurewise calls I-933 the “Developer Initiative,” and says the group opposes it because the initiative would “rollback protections that keep drinking water aquifers free of contamination, and that keep wells from going dry.”

The American Farmland Trust estimates that 75 percent of Washington farms’ have a market value that exceeds their agricultural — meaning the land is more valuable for houses, industry, or shopping centers than for agriculture. That puts pressure on farmers to develop, and to see their property as an investment that will payoff via subdivisions when they’re ready to retire.
           
When we lose farms, Stuart says, we also lose the large acreages that provide aquifer recharge, floodwater retention, riparian habitat protection, wildlife migration corridors, and open space as well as the economic benefits. Benefits like having a domestic food source and an industry that pays more in taxes than it receives in services.

The American Farmland Trust would like all levels of government — federal, state, county — to help to keep farmers farming. The Washington Farm Bureau thinks that comes from allowing them to develop their property, or else use it without the weight of government regulations.

The citizens of Washington will get to decide which version looks like the future they want for their state: Does limiting rural development, at the cost of frustrating some land owners, ultimately serve the greatest good? Or do those limits unconstitutionally “damage” a person’s property?

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5 comments

  1. Somewhere some time city folks are going to have to limit their control of agriculture lands. They use their friendly enivronmental groups to sue to shut off irrigation water so there is plenty for the fishes, they make wheat farmers change their use of the land to accomodate a mouse then they cry because the farmers can make more money by selling to a developer, and does so.
    Wake up and support the food producers in this country before you allow the environmentalist to completely destroy our whole economy. The land isn’t here just for you to come play on. If you think oil prices are high, just wait until you have to obtain food from some of these foreign dictators.

  2. Somewhere, sometime, the city folks are going to have to limit their subsidies for agricultural lands…

    No, really, if this initiative were targeted to food producers, to help free up their vital work; or to small landowners, to ease the market pressures pushing for housing developments; then you’d have a case. But you’d also have a different initiative.

    This is being sold for the poor, little guy, but it’s really about allowing megadivisions and housing developments without having to pay any heed to neighbors or the environment. It’s about being able to use water and air and land without letting the rest of us voice legitimate concerns.

    Do you want to vote for something to help wheat farmers, or whomever, or stop local governments from condemning land? Then support that — but not this. Don’t sell me straw and tell me it’s hay.

    Dan

  3. First we are talking about private land. Now if they are sqeezed out of producing food by various restrictions on what they can do with their land, then I feel they have every right to sell it to developers or whomever they choose.
    The first place to express your objections is when their use of their own property is curtailed by the protections afforded to minnows, mice or whatever.
    Second, I’m not sure where anti development folks think that folks who are looking for homes are going to live, if no houses are to be built.

  4. Marion, thanks…The thing with the property rights/development/land use discussion generally is that people tend to cast it as an black-and-white choice. As in, “This is my private property and I have a god-given right to do whatever I want” versus “All property should be regulated for the good of the community, whatever the state decides that is.”

    But those are caricatures. In reality, land is like any other property — it’s private and that’s the ultimate point of our laws, but it is also subject to reasonable regulation. Own a gun? A car? A house? A suit of clothing? All of those are subject to huge amounts of regulation (for good or ill). Land’s no different. The discussion should be: How much and what is reasonable — not trying to erase either reasonable regulations or private property.

    Regulations for “minnows, mice or whatever” can be burdensome. They could and probably should be streamlined, granted. But to throw out regulations for things like clean water and air, sewage treatment, etc. — that just doesn’t make sense, in my opinion.

    Dan

  5. Again we have the liberal city folk who have their piece of pie telling others they can’t. Yes it will be a burden to governments that over regulate our land. I guess you reap what you sow. Many years of over regulations on land use with out proper compensation has come back to haunt them. I would feel sorry for them but this has been coming on for some time. Property owners have had enough.