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Damascus deannexation hearings: yes, no, yes again and no again

It’s back to square one for an Damascus man who wants to withdraw his 244 acres from Damascus in order to develop it.

In a tie vote, Damascus city councilors May 6 denied Lowell Patton’s petition to withdraw the property from the city. Councilor Mary Wescott, who has supported Patton’s past efforts at deannexation, was absent, resulting in a 3-3 vote. With no majority, the petition failed.

Councilors Randy Shannon, Jim DeYoung and Council President Andrew Jackman voted against the petition, with Mayor Steve Spinnett and councilors Bill Wehr and Mel O’Brien casting yes votes.

Patton, 87, has owned the property just north of Carver along Highway 224 in southwestern Damascus since the early 1970s, and for years he’s planned to develop it. But since Damascus residents voted to incorporate as a city in 2003, the city and its residents have failed to agree on a comprehensive plan and codes needed for land in the city to be developed.

He has filed a tort claim giving notice to Damascus, Metro and the state’s Land Conservation Development Commission that he intends to sue them for $66 million. That’s the amount of money he’s out since the incorporation has put Patton’s development plans in limbo.

But Patton has postponed filing the lawsuit in hopes of city councilors approving his petition to deannex. After all, his goal is to build a winery, a variety of housing, a school on land that a school district already has an option to buy and even a water reservoir to serve all of southwestern Damascus.

It’s also one of only two parcels in Damascus with direct access to sewer, water and other infrastructure, making it ready for development.

Meanwhile, the city put other property owner requests to de-annex on hold pending the results of November’s election, when residents will vote on a new comprehensive plan. Residents also might be able to vote on whether the entire city should be disincorporated, or dissolved, and go back to being unincorporated Clackamas County like it was before Damascus became a city.

In fact, one day after the council voted to deny Patton’s request to deannex, the first signatures were gathered on a petition to place disincorporation on the November ballot. The Citizens Committee for Disincorporation is confident it will gather the 304 signatures needed for voters to decide whether Damascus should remain a city, said Chris Hawes, committee spokesman.

But because Patton has waited so long, Damascus city councilors made an exception of him. The City Council held one of two required public hearings on his petition before abruptly stopping the process in part because of issues about whether Patton would pay the city’s legal costs related to the process. Patton’s attorney, William Cox, said his client is willing to pay, but merely wanted an estimate before agreeing to pay for up to $20,000 in city attorney fees.

Instead, Cox said, the council tabled the issue until January 2014.

Councilor Wescott insisted that Patton should get his second public hearing, which the council approved in a 4-3 vote. But this required starting the process again, so on April 15, the council approved the resolution to schedule the first hearing on May 6.

But Wescott was unable to attend the hearing she fought so hard for, and without her swing vote, the council decided not to move forward with a second hearing on his deannexation petition.

With the net effect of the 3-3 vote being that no action was taken, Councilor O’Brien motioned to continue the hearing until the May 20 meeting when Wescott could vote on the issue. Another 3-3 vote followed.

So now what?

Well, it’s anyone’s guess, Cox said.

“In my 36 years in land-use law, I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s so bizarre, I don’t know what the proper way of dealing with it is.”

Even if voters approve a comprehensive plan in November, which in theory would pave the way for development in Damascus, it will be at least two to three years before Patton can move forward with his development plans. If the city is disincorporated and reverts to unincorporated Clackamas County, it likely will be a year and a half before the county can approve the plans.

“The whole thing is just absurd,” Cox said. “If we started now, we could have a master plan approved in a year. We might even be able to start moving dirt. But at this rate, Lowell isn’t going to live long enough.”

He still hopes the city “comes to its senses” and is considering embarking on Round III.



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