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Supporters of land-use initiative turn in more than 200,000 signatures

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Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 4:46 PM
A truck delivers some of the 209,000 petition signatures collected to have Initiative 108 be placed on the November ballot. The Colorado Farm Bureau delivered the record number of signatures Friday to the Colorado secretary of state.

Proponents of a ballot measure they claim will strengthen private property rights turned in a record 209,000 petition signatures Aug. 3 to the Colorado secretary of state.

Initiative 108 is a constitutional proposal for the November ballot that its chief sponsor, Colorado Farm Bureau, says will allow private property owners to take state or local governments to court when their property is devalued. The ballot measure doesn't identify the kind of private property that could be taken, but examples include mineral, oil and gas, or water rights.

The ballot measure addresses what's known as "takings" - when the government takes someone's private property for public use. Current law does not allow a property owner to sue until his or her property has been devalued by 90 percent. Initiative 108 - although the ballot measure's language doesn't say so - would allow a property owner to sue for fair compensation for a much lower threshold, said Marc Arnusch, a Weld County farmer and a member of the farm bureau's board of directors.

Initiative 108 becomes the second constitutional ballot measure under more stringent signature requirements approved by voters in 2016 under Amendment 71, aka "Raise the Bar," which the Farm Bureau supported.

Carlyle Currier, CFB vice president, said Friday that the success of the signature-collection effort demonstrated that "when given a voice, voters outside the Front Range want and deserve to have a say in the ballot initiative process." That goes to the claim, before passage of Amendment 71, that petition signature requirements could more easily be satisfied by collecting signatures in the state's major population centers, ignoring rural Colorado voters.

The initiative was required to collect 98,492 signatures. The 209,000 signatures surpass the previous record of 189,419 signatures in 2016 turned in by proponents of a change to the state's minimum wage law.

Among the takings that, according to proponents, demonstrate the need for the initiative:

The North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative, which includes the revamped National Western Center. Proponents claims this expansion, which includes a major reconfiguration of Interstate 70, "are the chief offenders for seizing private property and, as such, are the epicenter for local backlash and opposition." (Colorado Farm Bureau is a major supporter of the National Western project.)

A 2004 open space project by the city of Telluride, which seized land that was scheduled for development. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of Telluride, stating that "condemnation of property for open space and parks constitutes a lawful, public, local and municipal purpose," a case that has "carried an immense amount of weight in how eminent domain and private takings cases have been handled in Colorado ever since."

If voters approve 108, owners who believe their property is being devalued without fair compensation must prove that the devaluation is the result of government action. For example, if a city zoned adjacent property that diminished land values, the owners of the adjacent property would not likely prevail in a court action on a takings claim.

The measure is opposed by the Colorado Municipal League and a handful of elected municipal officials.

"Enshrining 108 in the constitution ought to concern everyone," tweeted Kevin Bommer, legislative liaison for the Colorado Municipal League. "Want a county to be sued for allowing (a) dairy farm to be built? Or a municipality zoning to ensure industrial uses don't impact schools? 108 will pit property owners against each other."

Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president for Colorado Farm Bureau, said he found those claims troubling.

"It makes me think those in charge of our government either don't understand all the case law (on takings) or are being blatantly misleading. Courts have taken a narrow view of takings legislation," Vorthmann said. A takings claim cannot be based on a general public loss or ones that involve health and safety or nuisance issues, he said.

Vorthmann said that 108 is the first time Colorado Farm Bureau has proposed a ballot measure, although the effort is also backed by the oil and gas industry, which also backed Amendment 71.

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