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The city of Corvallis has lost the first court test in its challenge to a new state law on voter-approved annexations.

Benton County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Donohue has ruled in favor of the state in a summary judgment issued Friday on SB 1573, the state law signed by Gov. Kate Brown last March.

The city, which was joined in the lawsuit by the city of Philomath and the League of Oregon Cities, argued that SB 1573 violates the Oregon Constitution because it infringes on the city’s home rule decision-making authority and restricts citizens’ rights to vote on annexations.

However, in his 12-page opinion (see the full text online) Donohue countered that “cities do not have constitutional authority to annex property and municipal citizens do not have a constitutional right to vote on annexation.”

Donohue, who heard oral arguments in the case Jan. 20 and took the matter under advisement Feb. 3, also noted that “because the Legislature provides the authority for annexation, it also may establish the annexation procedure a city must follow.”

Donohue itemized the three conditions in SB 1573 for annexations that do not require vote.

• First, all landowners within the area to be annexed must consent.

• Second, the land must be within the city's urban growth boundary and at least one parcel must be either contiguous to existing city property or separated by water or public right of way.

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• Third, the annexation must adhere to all city ordinances and land-use codes.

Corvallis City Attorney Jim Brewer said that an appeal of the ruling was likely, although he noted that he has not yet had a chance to discuss the ruling with the City Council. Brewer said he anticipated that councilors will decide at their March 6 meeting to hold a March 20 executive session to discuss the ruling.

“There was not much doubt that it probably didn’t matter which way he ruled … it was going to be appealed,” Brewer said.

Brewer added that the thoroughness of the ruling will benefit both sides.

“Judge Donohue gives you a good indication of what he was thinking,” Brewer said, “and by giving such a thorough opinion that gives the parties a lot to work with. A one-page ruling produces a lot more matters to speculate about. It’s a very complete decision, but that doesn’t mean we agree with it.”

Corvallis was the first city in Oregon to offer voter-approved annexations, passing a measure in 1976. The city has voted on 79 annexations, passing 58 and rejecting 21. Most recently, on Nov. 8, 2016, voters approved the Lawndale annexation, which brought five properties off of Northeast Lawndale Place into the city’s stock of land. The annexation was driven by septic failures in the neighborhood.

Brewer said that the state Court of Appeals and then the state Supreme Court would be the avenues for appeals. Because no federal issues are at stake, there will not be any involvement by federal courts of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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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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