DAMASCUS, Ore. – A few years ago, residents of the rural Damascus area in Clackamas County got together to incorporate as a city, Oregon’s first new city in two decades.
But a split between those who want to develop land and those who want to keep a rural life has been hard to bridge.
City commissioners have asked voters to cast ballots in November on whether they favor pulling about half the city of about 10,000 people out of the regional planning process, a move that could lead to returning that part of the city to rural status.
Some in the city are talking about doing away with Damascus’ incorporated status entirely.
Kitty O’Meara, who helped develop the draft comprehensive plan rejected by voters in 2010, said the deadlock over development has proved too difficult to overcome.
“We’ve just been circling the drain for a long, long time,” she said.
State law requires cities to have comprehensive plans so that they can zone property. The vote against the plan was 65-35.
In another development, the state Department of Transportation has pulled a federal grant Damascus was using for work on its state-required transportation system, citing passage of a local measure that requires voter approval of major plans and ordinances.
A major landowner, 89-year-old Lowell Patton, has filed a lawsuit that claims the city’s development deadlock has cost him $66 million.
Patton operates a rock products business and has held land, some of it with sweeping views of Mount Hood, for nearly four decades, waiting for the right time to build. He hoped to start four or five years ago, during better times for real estate. Among his ideas is a winery with mountain views.
“I figured when I bought all this it was a retirement program,” Patton said.
But because Damascus lacks a development process, Patton’s land has remained mostly empty. Now he hopes he can de-annex his property and proceed with what he’s planned since long before Damascus was a city.
If the measure proposed by the City Council passes in November, the council would ask the regional government Metro to remove the land from the urban grown boundary it administers. City council members say that same area will probably be de-annexed, which would lower taxes for those property owners.
“I think that could alleviate some of the angst,” said council President Diana Helm. But, she said, that’s only part of the solution.
“Could it be the whole solution if the city disincorporated? I don’t know,” she said. “There are people all throughout the city who are just ready to throw in the towel.”