Here’s a perfect example of why pay-or-waive laws don’t work. In the rural Oregon community of Prineville, a property owner filed a claim under Measure 37 demanding to be allowed to build his house on a specific portion of his property that’s zoned otherwise. Instead of waiving the zoning law, the county council became the first in Oregon to offer taxpayer compensation instead — to the tune of about $47,000.

But that’s not good enough for the property owner. Now he’s coming back with a new proposal for a diner and condominiums on the restricted portion of his property. The choice he’s giving the county is the same, but with higher stakes: pay him for the “lost” value of the buildings or waive the zoning.

Now, it’s not that he wants to build a diner and condos. That’s hardly the point. He simply believes he can force the county to offer him more taxpayer money (he’s talking about as much as $5 million) or, faced with that unpleasant option, that they will waive the zoning for him. Either way, he’ll come out the winner and his community will come out the loser.

And now a quibble with the media coverage. The Eugene Register-Guard posted a very misleading AP story. The story makes it sound as if Prineville’s zoning prevents the fellow from building his house anywhere on his property. But that’s not right. Under the zoning he’s legally allowed to build almost anywhere on his land, just not with 200 feet of the rimrock, which is restricted from building inside city limits to preserve scenery.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.