March 06, 2001 11:00 pm

By James Sinks#

Observer Capitol reporter

SALEM Seeing support in the passage of Ballot Measure 7, rural Republicans are resurrecting an idea thats gone nowhere at the statehouse: scrapping Oregons decades-old statewide land-use system in favor of a more region-specific model.

The idea of decentralizing planning rules is hardly new at the Capitol, and lawmakers have been tweaking the 1970s-era

system for years.

Several developments make this year the right time to begin discussing a new approach to regulating land use, some say. Ballot Measure 7, an anti-takings initiative, was approved by voters in November but ruled unconstitutional last month, and a new governor will take office in 2002.

The measures fate is still up in the air. Supporters will appeal the circuit court ruling.

Even if the law never goes into effect, the election results emboldened many critics of the system. Measure 7 passed by 53 percent of the vote with support from everywhere outside of Portland, Eugene and Corvallis.

A new House committee will begin discussing Tuesday whether the Legislature ought to write a new version of the controversial initiative, which said that government must compensate landowners if regulations reduce property value.

The election shows that the public thinks restrictions on the use of private property are unfair, said House Speaker Mark Simmons, R-Elgin.

People in different parts of the state have different needs and should be able to have different goals, he said. I think Measure 7 shows a great deal of frustration with the existing regulatory system.

Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, wants to create a commission that would meet across the state and then recommend improvements on a region-by-region basis.

We have been living with the current system for 30 years, he said. We need to stop and take a look at the system and the goals and ask if theres a better way to redesign land-use in Oregon.

He thinks there ought to be fewer restrictions on development in Central and Eastern Oregon, especially on poor-quality soil.

Recommendations by Smiths proposed task force would be forwarded to the 2003 Legislature and the successor to Gov. John Kitzhaber, who cannot seek office

again because of term limits.

Waiting until after the 2002 gubernatorial election makes sense, said Rep. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.

A new governor will give us a new opportunity to look at this issue, Knopp said. A lot of us on the east side feel the land-use system is a one-size-fits-all approach.

Kitzhaber, who has vetoed attempts to weaken the statewide land-use framework, believes in regional flexibility and says the system already allows a great deal of it, said spokesman Bob Applegate. Cities and counties are responsible for creating and maintaining local zoning plans.

The reason Oregons land-use system has been successful is because it is a statewide program and enforceable at the state level, said Randy Tucker, lobbyist for the land-use watchdog group 1000 Friends of Oregon. Balkanization of the system is not the way to improve it.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, the vice chairman of the Measure 7 committee, said calls for regional oversight of land-use laws come typically from narrow special interest groups. The public doesnt support loosening limits on sprawl, for instance, he said.