Oregon

Damascus Agreement Could Open The Door To Approval Of Growth Plan

OPB | July 16, 2013 12:37 p.m. | Damascus, Oregon

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Damascus city councilors reached an agreement Monday that could open the door for approval of the city’s long-term growth plan.

Last week, councilors deadlocked 3-to-3 on the plan.

But at last Monday’s first reading, Damascus councilor Jim DeYoung switched to a “yes” vote. Councilors also backed the creation of a “charter review committee” to look at voter-approved limits on city spending.

If approved at a second reading Thursday night, the comprehensive plan would go to Damascus voters in November. That ballot already includes a vote on whether Damascus should dissolve as a city.

Damascus has struggled to chart a way forward, ever since the Metro regional government decided ten years ago to bring the rural area into the urban growth boundary.

Monday was scheduled for the final adoption of the comprehensive plan. But that was doomed July 11, when a city council meeting degenerated, as a “first reading” vote failed to muster a majority.

The night concluded with an angry Mayor Steve Spinnett breaking into a heated council debate to say, “Well, I’m going to adjourn this meeting.” A moment later, Mayor Spinnett lowered his gavel, saying “it’s adjourned.”

Oregon requires cities to come up with comprehensive plans to chart long-term growth and to set zoning. Land-use rules call for Damascus to increase housing densities. That’s been controversial in the rural area.

Damascus city leaders tried to meet state requirements with a plan in 2010, only to have it referred to the ballot and rejected the following spring.

The new plan has been the subject of more than a dozen hearings over the last month.

There are two camps on council who voted against sending the comprehensive plan to voters in November.

Councilor Andrew Jackman argues the city should first answer the question of whether Damascus voters want to remain a city.

“I’ve said repeatedly that I feel like we should ask the voters: Do they want to disincorporate or not?” Jackman said. “Not based on an ugly plan or a good plan, but just the energy – I think not approving this comprehensive plan is the way to go,” he added.

The remaining “no” vote on the city council is Randy Shannon. He contends the city can’t afford to implement the comprehensive plan because of voter-approved limits on city spending. Shannon suggested last week that the council ask voters to approve the comprehensive plan and a repeal of limits on city spending in November. Here’s Shannon defending his proposal, against councilor Bill Wehr.

“I’m watching 12 years of work go down the bowl, if we can’t reach agreement on this but I’m willing to do that,” Shannon said.

“That’s exactly what the spending cap was all about,” Wehr cut in. “Just what you said ‘I’m willing to …’”

“You haven’t even looked at the modifications …” Shannon broke in. But Wehr continued, “I have Randy, I’ve read it twice already.”

“But this is exactly — and it’s unfortunate we’re having this kind of display — but that is why the people voted for the spending cap 2-to-1 in the first place, it’s because of your attitude in other things. And you’re just doing it all over again,” Wehr concluded.

“It’s all my fault, that’s fine,” Shannon replied.

Councilor Jim DeYoung had agreed with Shannon’s concerns – but he switched his vote, Monday, after other councilors agreed to create a committee to review the city’s charter. City officials say the council is expected to conduct a final vote on the comprehensive plan Thursday night — and to approve a resolution setting up a charter review committee.

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