On February 24, 2017, Judge Matthew J. Donohue, Benton County Circuit Court, released a decision upholding SB 1573, which exempts certain annexations from voter approval. A number of cities in Oregon have home rule charter provisions that require voter approval of annexations. This requirement, however, sometimes works at cross-purposes with Oregon’s overall land use planning system, which requires cities to keep a 20-year supply of urbanizable land within their urban growth boundaries, which can then be annexed over time to meet the 20-year need. When annexations come up for a vote and are rejected by citizens, the system tends to grind to a halt, property owners are left in limbo, and the path for city compliance with state law becomes murky.
In some cities, such as Oregon City and Sherwood, substantial amounts of money were expended to plan for the urbanizable land within the expanded urban growth boundary, but the property sat undeveloped for years afterward because all subsequent annexation attempts were voted down. The 2016 legislature adopted SB 1573 as a long-awaited resolution to the stalemate; the law allows annexation petitions that meet certain requirements to be approved without a vote, even if the city’s charter would otherwise require it. Some cities and citizens saw SB 1573 as an unwelcome and unconstitutional intrusion into their authority and rights, and last summer SB 1573 was appealed to Benton County Circuit Court by the City of Corvallis and others. The upshot of Judge Donohue’s decision is that cities do not have constitutional authority to annex property outside their boundaries and that citizens of a city do not have a constitutional right to vote on annexation of that property. Therefore, the state may make laws affecting the annexation process without infringing those supposed rights. Although the plaintiffs in this case have not yet said whether they will appeal the circuit court’s decision, it is a pretty safe bet that at least one plaintiff will appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals.