BIG ENOUGH FOR A POPCORN STAND
The Ed Cox Story.
Ed Cox purchased a plot of land in Portland, Oregon for $4,000 in 1967, paid taxes on it and
waited several years for an appropriate time to build a house on the site.
But when Cox finally decided to develop the property in 1991, he learned that the county would
not issue a building permit because the property was covered by a series of environmental
protection regulations, imposed after 1967, that made development prohibitively expensive.
An environmental protection (EP) overlay zone, which bans virtually all development, covered
all but a five-foot strip of Cox's 11,000 square foot lot. As for the five-foot strip - just
big enough for a popcorn stand - that too was covered by an environmental conservation (EC)
overlay zone. This allowed development but only if the owner mitigated the adverse
environmental impact. The reason for such restrictions is unclear as the plot is located in a
A city planner finally permitted Cox to build on an 18-foot section of his property -
provided his land could be granted a more flexible EC designation. Cox paid for a
pre-application hearing and initiated the process to change the zoning. But then he
learned that he would have to spend $25,000 to $35,000 for an environmental impact
evaluation, an engineering study and a soil analysis. Even then, a land-use attorney
advised that there was a slim chance the city would change the zoning.
Making matters worse, eighteen feet was hardly wide enough for a house. The house would be
located right on the street with no front yard. Even had Cox decided to build a house,
neighbors told him they would file a lawsuit if he built a house with no front yard.
Faced with all these obstacles, Cox abandoned his construction plans. In a subsequent
lawsuit he filed against the county over the property's taxable value, Cox claimed that the
property had been rendered valueless. The Oregon Tax Court rejected his claim but agreed that
it had been substantially depreciated and ruled that it was worth no more than $2,000.
Source: Oregonians In Action
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