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The Retreat, a massive student housing complex near Oregon State University that opened last fall, was built on land annexed into the city by Corvallis voters in 2012. The city is challenging a state law signed in March that limits such voter-approved annexations.

Andy Cripe, Corvallis Gazette-Times file

The city of Corvallis is going to court in an effort to preserve its system of voter-approved annexations.

Corvallis, which in 1976 became the first city in Oregon to require voter approval of land annexations, has filed a lawsuit aimed at overturning Senate Bill 1573, the state law signed by Gov. Kate Brown in March that limits such ballot requirements.

The lawsuit was filed June 2 in Benton County Circuit Court and names Brown, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins, Jim Rue, director of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, and the five property owners on Northeast Lawndale Avenue who filed the most recent annexation request.

“Senate Bill 1573 does not comply with provisions of the Oregon Constitution limiting legislative authority and reserving the right of initiative and referendum and the right of local voters to enact and amend their own city charters,” wrote City Attorney Jim Brewer in the complaint filed by the city.

“This lawsuit seeks declaratory relief that Senate Bill 1573 is unconstitutional on its face and as applied to the City of Corvallis.”

Backers of SB 1573 promoted the legislation as an effort to streamline the development process and help ease the housing supply crisis in the state.

The case will be tried by a judge or panel of judges in Corvallis, Brewer said, while noting that court sessions at which motions will be filed and briefings issued likely are months away.

Brewer also said that “regardless of the decision” at the Benton County Circuit Court the case is likely to be appealed, with the state Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court the next steps up the jurisdictional ladder.

Because no federal issues are at stake, there will not be any involvement by federal courts or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brewer said he expects assistance in the case from the League of Oregon Cities and the League of Women Voters.

"This case is about home rule and how city charters and state statutes work together," Brewer said, explaining why he thought the two organizations would be active supporters of the lawsuit.

Chris Pair, press secretary for Brown, said that because the case involved "ongoing litigation we can't really comment on it."

Corvallis voters passed a measure mandating voted-approved elections on Nov. 2, 1976, and the first two annexation elections were held May 17, 1977. In the years since, 57 such annexations have been approved by voters and 21 were defeated.

Annexation plans for the Witham Oaks property in northwest Corvallis were defeated seven times before a vote passed in 2004. Core Investments of Chicago plans to build a student housing complex on the 95-acre site north of Harrison Boulevard and west of 35th Street.

The two most recent annexation votes added the Sather property just west of the Oregon State University campus in 2012 and a site near Southwest 49th Street in 2013. The Sather site was developed by Landmark Properties of Athens, Georgia, into The Retreat, a student housing complex that can accommodate more than 1,000 residents.

The 49th Street property has not yet been developed.

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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