With a lack of council consensus on the plan, mayor to create a citizen initiative to pass plan in March

In the wake of last week’s failure to reopen Damascus’ comprehensive plan process to public hearings — in essence dashing hopes of it appearing on the November ballot for citizen approval — Mayor Steve Spinnett has unveiled his Plan B, called “The People’s Plan.”

It calls for bypassing the council, which can’t seem to agree on it, or at least long enough for final approval, and going directly to residents for voter approval.

After three meetings of the council yo-yoing between rejecting, approving and rejecting the plan again, on Thursday, Aug. 1, Damascus city councilors voted 4-1 against opening the plan up to more public hearings. Now that it’s all but impossible for the council to agree on the plan in time for it to appear on the November ballot for voter approval, Spinnett and councilors Bill Wehr and Mel O’Brien will modify the draft comprehensive plan and begin collecting voter signatures needed to put it before voters in March.

“The People’s Plan” will be an “edited version of the existing plan but with far fewer environmental regulations,” Spinnett wrote in a press release he drafted Saturday, Aug. 3. “It is also more respectful of private property owners’ rights.”

Councilors have debated the merits of the draft plan, which the city’s volunteer planning commission created, and ended up with a stalemate with a 3-3 vote on July 11. One council seat is empty due to Councilor Mary Wescott’s resignation in protest of the forced resignation of former city manager Greg Baker. And the tie vote — Spinnett, Wehr and O’Brien approved the plan — resulted in the defeat of the ordinance and resolution needed to put the comprehensive plan on the November ballot.

Four days later, on Monday July 15, Councilor Jim DeYoung changed his vote to yes, resulting in 4-2 approval of the plan’s first reading.

But three days later, on Thursday, July 18, the second and final reading failed 3-3, with Councilors Randy Shannon, Andrew Jackman and

DeYoung casting no votes.

Jackman said the plan doesn’t do enough to protect natural features and the environment. Shannon and DeYoung voted against it because Damascus has no way to fund the comprehensive plan, which paves the way for how Damascus will be developed.

The city charter doesn’t allow Damascus to collect building fees or system development charges, which are how municipalities traditionally fund development. And a new spending cap further limits the city’s ability to spend money on infrastructure needs identified in the comprehensive plan.

Spinnett, Wehr and O’Brien, however, don’t think the proposed charter changes should be connected to the comprehensive plan.

Most recently, on Aug. 1, the council voted 4-1, with DeYoung abstaining, against reopening the process to public hearings. So any possibility of having voters cast ballots on the plan in November, “that’s not going to happen,” Spinnett said. There just isn’t enough time to build consensus on the plan, have a vote and then a second reading by Sept. 5, when the plan would need to be approved in time for a November vote, he said.

Damascus has struggled to draft a comprehensive plan since residents in 2004 approved incorporating into a city instead of being part of unincorporated Clackamas County. The comprehensive plan is a roadmap for how the city should be developed, and state law requires each city to have one.

But the motivation to have more control over how the area grows has waned in recent years, as it’s become clear that growth projections have proven wildly optimistic. With no huge demand for development, and with visions of Damascus becoming the next big suburb never materializing, some residents are reconsidering whether Damascus should remain a city.

Residents will vote in November on whether to disincorporate as a city.

Meanwhile, the state Land Conservation and Development Commission has demanded that Damascus approve a comprehensive plan. It granted the city an extension until Aug. 31 and threatened to yank $205,000 in funding if the plan isn’t approved by then.

Spinnett, however, said there’s no real effect on Damascus residents if the city waits until March to vote on a comprehensive plan.

But about that state funding evaporating?

“There’s a spending limit,” he said. “You can’t spend it anyway.”

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