Friday, February 16, 2007

Arizona property owners asked to waive some rights

10:23 AM MST on Monday, February 12, 2007
Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Property owners across Arizona are being asked to waive their rights to be compensated for lost property value if they decide to develop their land.

Proposition 207, which was approved by voters in November, expanded property rights in Arizona so that landowners can file claims when government land-use rules lower their property value.

Government officials say one problem with the law is that it appears to allow someone to request a rezoning and then file a claim, seeking monetary damages because the rezoning lowered the property's value.

"The way that lawsuits happen today, I don't think it's unreasonable," said Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. "It's illogical, but it's not outside the realm of possibility."

Officials say closing that loophole could keep taxpayers safe from frivolous lawsuits.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns is encouraging its members to adopt waivers in which the person seeking a rezoning or conditional use permit agrees not to seek claims for the specific action requested.

Pima County and Marana have used similar language in rezonings approved this year, Sahuarita is working on a waiver and Tucson plans to make the waivers standard.

But some cities are using broader waivers.

Strobeck said he suspects some of the waivers will end up in court.

One city that has drawn attention is Apache Junction east of Phoenix. Its waiver includes language that indemnifies the city, effectively barring lawsuits.

Apache Junction City Attorney Joel Stern said he was trying to protect the city from claims about the specific action being sought, not from all claims.

But one applicant who wanted to change some of the conditions on a permit objected to the waiver, saying it was depriving him of his rights under Proposition 207.

Stern said he is working with the applicant on language he would find acceptable.
"We don't want to be the first test case," Stern said.

Some property-rights advocates say the waivers could allow governments to cross the line.
"It appears to be an attempt to repeal Proposition 207," said Clint Bolick, a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank. "It's unfortunate that governments are looking for ways not to comply but to evade it. It's that kind of arrogance that led voters to endorse Proposition 207."

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