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Clackamas County prepares to assume land use regulation

Action hinges on May 17 vote by Damascus on whether to end city status.

Clackamas County commissioners, though remaining neutral on the ballot measure itself, are preparing to assume land use planning functions if Damascus voters choose to disincorporate their city in the May 17 election.

A majority of those who cast ballots on Measure 93 will decide the fate of the city created in 2004. If Measure 93 is approved, Damascus would cease to be a city on July 18.

“The day that the city disincorporates, the county’s zoning and development ordinance, including marijuana regulations, will apply to all of these properties,” Mike McCallister, the county planning director, told commissioners on Tuesday (April 19).

McCallister responded after Commissioner Tootie Smith asked about the application of the county’s regulations of marijuana facilities, which commissioners wrote into the county zoning ordinance back in December. The regulations apply to areas outside cities.

Damascus is one of eight cities in Clackamas County that have chosen under state law to opt out of allowing production and sales of marijuana for recreational use. Voters in those cities will have the final say on those opt-outs on Nov. 8. But if Damascus voters decide to disincorporate their city on May 17, they will not have an opt-out vote Nov. 8.

Commissioner Jim Bernard said he did not want to see a rush of applications for marijuana-related facilities in Damascus.

McCallister, Deputy County Administrator Nancy Newton and Nate Boderman, a staff attorney for the county counsel, said they would work on a land-use statement to be posted on the county website before the election.

Board Chairman John Ludlow said he thinks such a statement should be reviewed by the Oregon secretary of state to make sure it is explanatory only, not construed as support of or opposition to disincorporation.

If Measure 93 passes, commissioners may face other adjustments involving Damascus, because the zoning ordinance as applied to the area may lack designations for urban uses.

Voters rejected several attempts by Damascus to adopt a comprehensive land use plan, as state law requires no later than four years after a city incorporates. The latest attempt toward a plan failed in November 2014.

Since then, some landowners have sought to annex their properties to Happy Valley, the city to the west of Damascus, to allow urban development. McCallister said his best estimate is that about 150 properties have sought to do so.

State lawmakers in 2015 put the issue of Damascus’ disincorporation on the May 17 ballot. They did so after a circuit judge ruled that a 2013 vote to do so was invalid because a majority of registered voters did not take part — and the Court of Appeals upheld that ruling earlier in 2015.

Under a separate 2015 bill, lawmakers provided for a one-year continuation by the county of sheriff’s patrols and a one-year retention of the 11 employees on the city payroll, if Measure 93 passes.

Clackamas County also would settle remaining city debt and retain city road funds for street work within the former city limits.

Any remaining money would be refunded to taxpayers within the former city limits after Jan. 1, 2018. How much money might be refunded to taxpayers has become a topic of debate in the Measure 93 campaign. The 2015 legislation does not specify an amount.

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