Battle looms over waiver or compensation now county has Measure 37 rules on the booksNo Wal-Mart or Walgreens, Jon Riekkola promises.
But the Miles Crossing landowner thinks his property on Wireless Road is good for more than just grazing cows.
On Tuesday Riekkola and his brother, Jeff Riekkola, became the first local residents to file a claim against Clatsop County under ballot Measure 37, the land-use compensation measure. The two want to remove the restrictive zoning on a 75-acre piece of pastureland on Wireless Road that's been in the family's ownership for more than 60 years.
But it's not clear whether the two have a valid claim under the measure's language.
After years of watching land-use regulations add more and more restrictions to property owners' rights, Riekkola sees Measure 37 as a long overdue corrective.
"This is the best thing that has happened to our area in many, many years," he said.
The measure requiring state and local governments to compensate landowners for regulations that limit use of their property won approval from Oregon voters last month. On Wednesday the Clatsop County commissioners adopted a formal process the handling Measure 37 claims.
The measure requires governments to pay landowners who can prove that land-use regulations have harmed the value of their property. If the government can't or won't pay, it must waive those rules.
The Riekkolas want the county to waive all regulations that have been imposed on the Wireless Road property since 1941, when their father and grandfather purchased the land. That would effectively remove all zoning rules from the parcel.
The land is currently zoned for Exclusive Farm Use. The EFU zone allows more than just agricultural uses - two years ago Riekkola was granted a conditional use permit from the county to build a golf driving range on 12 acres of the Wireless Road parcel - but it severely restricts the construction of new residences and blocks most commercial uses as well.
His father and grandfather grew grass seed on the land until the seed market declined, then grazed cattle, Riekkola said. The cattle market has also dwindled, and while the Riekkolas still lease the land for grazing milk cows, it's a marginal operation.
He has no plans for the property at this point, Riekkola said. But with agriculture a fading way of life in Clatsop County, he wants the chance to put the land to a more productive use that could benefit the community, he said.
"For farming it's a total waste," he said. "It would be way more valuable as a business-type use."
But the Riekkolas' claim is based on a reading of the measure at odds with what the new law seems to allow.
Measure 37 gives the local government the option of paying the claim or waiving the land-use rule that's blocking the desired use. In the case of a waiver, county officials say the measure only allows the rules to be changed to what they were at the time when the current owner acquired the land, no matter how long the land has been in the family's ownership.
The measure's language states that the government can grant a waiver in lieu of payment "to allow the owner to use the property for a use permitted at the time the owner acquired the property." The measure defines "owner" as the property's present owner.
For Jon and Jeff Riekkola, a waiver would only go back to July this year, when the two assumed ownership of the land.
But as Riekkola reads the measure - "after you read it a few hundred times it's pretty cut-and-dried," he joked - the waiver period isn't limited to when the current owner took possession, but goes back to the family's original purchase. He points to a clause that prohibits claims against land-use regulations implemented "prior to the date of acquisition of the property by the owner or a family member of the owner." And "family member," he said, is spelled out in the measure and includes grandparent.
County counsel Blair Henningsgaard, who drafted the claims process adopted by the county, said the clause Riekkola pointed to refers only to compensation claims. In cases where money is paid to a landowner, the government does go back to the date the property first came into the family's possession to determine how the rules harmed its value.
While there are no plans for the land currently, the property could support a variety of uses, particularly with buildable land around the county at a premium, Riekkola said.
"There are a lot of things that could happen on that land that could benefit our area," he said.
The property will be connected to the new sewer service coming to Miles Crossing. That, and the new Rural Communities land-use designation that rezoned some properties for more intensive uses, makes the entire area more attractive for new development, he said. "Things are going to happen out there anyway."
In the past, Riekkola has offered the property as a new site for Astoria High School's football field, an offer that still stands. Other interested people have suggested the driving range area as a location for homesites, he said. Commercial development might also be a possibility, but nothing that would not fit in with the local community - no big retail stores like Wal-mart, he emphasized.
"Anything I do I would try to complement the area," he said.