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Monday, June 20, 2016

State lawmakers oppose citizens voting on annexations to Corvallis for new real estate developments

letter on Corvallis development process below editorial comment GT 4/1/15

PHOTO: My letter to the editor about a proposed real estate development in my small college town. (See previous post OSU college town development politics over student housing project (4/2/15)) On the same page as my letter, the editor, while writing about the new City Manager, wryly commented, ". . .the city's fondness for (how to phrase this delicately?) a protracted public process on virtually every issue will not come as any sort of shock to his system.". My letter commented on the motivation for and the history of the Corvallis planning process as a reaction to the post-World War II Builing boom.

The City of Corvallis, Oregon suffered from a building boom after World War II due to rapid growth, which led City leaders in 1976 to pass a law requiring all annexations of land to the city, such as those intended for new real estate development, to be voted on by all citizens. The law has been in effect for four decades and it has been copied by some other cities in Oregon that wanted to control growth.

Of course the annexation voting law has never been popular with those who profit from growth, such as real estate developers and other special interest groups, and who have been challenging the law for decades. Therefore, I was not surprised to read the news that the Corvallis annexation law could be thrown out by the recently passed Oregon Senate Bill 1573 and a decision on its Constitutionality by a Court of law. (See news story by James Day, "City takes state to court: Lawsuit challenges annexation changes," Gazette-Times, Jun. 11, 2016, p. A1, A3 posted online as "Corvallis files suit over annexations law" and the Corvallis newspaper's "Editorial: Cities push back on annexation law," posted Jun. 13, 2016)

In response, I wrote the following letter to the editor to defend voting on annexations, based on how it has been a benefit to all of the City's citizens due to increased property values:

Corvallis taxpayers, especially those who are younger, might be unaware of how they could be forced to subsidize bad real estate developments, if state lawmakers succeed in taking away Corvallis voters' right to approve of annexations requests for new housing developments.

The importance of being able to vote on annexations was first taught to me in 1976 by an Oregon State University engineering professor, who was my graduate school thesis advisor, and who had witnessed the massive post-World War II building boom in Corvallis spearheaded by real estate developers cozy with city leaders who stuck taxpayers with the bill for poorly planned roads and other city services.

Of course, the Corvallis builder of the "starter home" I purchased in 1980 blamed annexation laws and onerous development codes for his $60,000 asking price, but my real problem was the typical 30-year home loan that levied a greater than 12 percent annual interest rate.

In hindsight, I thank intelligent Corvallis voters for having prevented haphazard annexations over the last four decades, which has benefited all homeowners with higher property valuations.

(Quoted from Thomas Kraemer, "Letter: Annexation votes help homeowners," Gazette-Times, Jun. 20, 2016, p. A7)

Ironically, the massive building boom in Corvallis literally died in the 1980's during the Reagan Recession, and this was probably due to changing demographics and high interest rates on new homes back then, instead of the annexation laws real estate profiteers liked to blame. Later, the rapid growth of the Hewlett-Packard plant in the 1990's caused some new home building in the non-controversial and upscale Timberhill neighborhood, which had already been set aside for annexation, but even this limited growth stalled out when Hewlett-Packard downsized and moved most of its operations elsewhere.

Today, the recent doubling in enrollment at Oregon State University has mostly caused an increased demand for student housing, which has led to several new apartment complexes that neighbors have tried to stop due to their fears of living next to a noisy nuisance.

The limited supply of new land in Corvallis has made it very expensive to buy a house or lot that is not in a student ghetto, which has forced many younger and poorer faculty members to commute to Corvallis from other cities. In fact, many of the older homes close to campus used to be occupied by faculty, but have been converted into rental houses for students -- only further exacerbating the problem. Sadly, I recall the advantages of a small town where you could walk or bike to a faculty member's house.