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Damascus faces sanctions by state, actions by Legislature


Mayor says House Bill 4029 will sabotage citys efforts

The Oregon Legislature is coming down hard on the city of Damascus for not finalizing a comprehensive land-use plan in almost 10 years of existence. So is the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development.

After years of missed deadlines by the city, last week the DLCD made a final decision to stop giving state-shared revenues for planning to Damascus, which comes to about $300,000 a year, because the city has failed to file a comp plan.

The Legislature, through House Bill 4029, would allow landowners on the periphery of Damascus city limits to withdraw from the town and be eligible for annexation by another municipality, also because the city has not submitted a comp plan.

Damascus Mayor Steve Spinnett said he can understand the action of the DLCD, but says the bill before the Legislature is nothing short of sabotage.

“They are cracking the whip over us and in the case of the DLCD enforcement proceedings, I can’t necessarily blame them for lighting a fire under us to get this comp plan,” he said. “I’ve been working hours and hours and hours on just my plan.”

The mayor’s plan is one of three comp plans that voters get to pick from on the May 20 ballot. City Council president Andrew Jackman also developed a comp plan. Both plans are based on an original 2013 comprehensive plan that was developed by city staff and the planning commission and included extensive public comment.

Through a signature initiative, the original 2013 comp plan also will be on the ballot.

Spinnett said if one of the comp plans gets more than 50 percent of votes cast, it will be adopted as the city’s comprehensive plan and submitted to the state.

If none of the plans gets more than 50 percent of votes cast, the council will send the plan that got the most votes to the November ballot.

Spinnett said he’s not worried about the state withholding money.

“Only some of it will affect the general fund,” he said. “That money is just withheld and will be available to us when we really need it.”

The mayor was not so generous about House Bill 4029.

“This house bill is flawed in just about every way you look at it and will absolutely undermine the planning process in Damascus,” he said.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Bill Kennemer, a Republican from Oregon City, but Spinnett claims it was “spearheaded” by General Distributors, a beer and wine distributor that owns land in Damascus.

“They want to develop the property right now so they can build their distributorship on the property at the expense of the entire city planning process,” Spinnett said.

“I’m confident we will pass a comp plan, if not in May then in November,” he said.

House Bill 4029 passed the House unanimously and is now in a Senate committee, said City Councilor Jim De Young, who testified against the bill in the House.

According to the bill, De Young said, property owners along the boundaries of Damascus can apply to the City Council to withdraw from the town, but if the council refuses, the withdrawal happens automatically.

“This bill virtually allows anybody along the boundaries to withdraw and be annexed by an adjoining jursidiction,” he said.

The DLCD hearing was held Feb. 13 and presided over by Hearings Officer Fred Wilson. In his 20-page decision, Wilson stated that unlike a typical contested case hearing, “there is virtually no dispute about the facts” involving the case.

“It has been more than nine years since the city of Damascus was incorporated,” Wilson wrote. “The city has made some progress toward an acknowledged comprehensive plan and land-use regulations, but not a lot.”

Wilson notes that the city claims to be working hard toward meeting compliance schedules, but “due to political differences within the city... it has been unable to meet the deadlines.”

Wilson said he was sympathetic to the hurdles Damascus faces “but ultimately those obstacles are of the city’s own making,” which he does not see as an adequate defense.

The decision is “not a punitive enforcement proceeding” against the city, but to pursuade the city to come up with a plan, Wilson wrote.

“In other words, DLCD believes that withholding $300,000 in state-shared revenue is the best available incentive for the city to complete the planning tasks that have been delayed for so long,” Wilson wrote.

Wilson said he doubts the city will do anything other than wait until after the May election to adopt a plan. He recommended withholding the state money on July 1 if the city has not submitted a comp plan by that date.

Wilson also recommended that if the city fails to adopt a comp plan by July 1, the state “explore avenues to allow property owners to develop urban uses despite the lack of a city comprehensive plan and land use regulations,” which is, in some respects, what House Bill 4029 will allow.

But Mayor Spinnett said he is certain a plan will be adopted this year.

“I’m confident of November at the latest, and if we don’t pass a comp plan then, then I don’t think we ever will,” he said.