The City of Damascus is the Metro region’s first city since Oregon started regulating land use. There are many reasons why the City was formed, but my favorite excuse was a demand for Local Control.
Let’s start with why Damascus is such a battle ground. The little known fact of this battle is that those most involved in forming the City are now the ones trying to destroy it. The big reason, they are more worried about who gets to be in control than with results. The battle is really about who gets to claim to be in charge. But much like the Jerry Springer show, the simple problems are insurmountable not because you can’t figure them out. It’s because the people appear to be more interested in slapping other people than focusing on the result they are causing. Disincorporation will not solve the personal differences and might even make things worse. Helplessly delegating your own ability to make decisions has never helped anyone, usually things are made worse.
So what will happen if the City of Damascus returned to an unincorporated Clackamas County? Like two small children violently debating the proper use of a million dollar lottery ticket, the mythical benefits of either outcome are often disconnected from reality. Some believe that most of the city couldn’t actually develop, and that the area would go back to what it was like before the city formed. That level of wishful thinking is very dangerous. Dangerous because, by the time the development is coming, it will be too late for neighbors to influence outcomes. If not controlled by a local city, Clackamas County development will progress much like Washington County.
Cities tend to focus on the human elements. They focus on housing, parks, public safety, and the human-scale stores and offices needed for people to work, live and play in their home town. What Counties are focused on is creating real big ‘catalyst-for-change’ size employers. Intel, HP, Solar World, giant server farms and other huge industrial uses that cluster in Oregon for cheap hydro-electric power. Clackamas County has been successful in attracting huge food processors, shipping food products all over the world. With Safeway and Fred Meyer’s distribution facilities in our backyard, branded food processors have a huge incentive to build out or locate off of Highway 212. Those multi-million dollar strip malls and office parks to multi-billion dollar industrial facilities will pay for the infrastructure in exchange for longer term property tax breaks. That’s what the County wants. It’s also recently what Happy Valley has stated it wants to see in the near term Damascus properties as well.
What’s likely to be in a Comp Plan from Damascus? “Legacy Neighborhoods” of large lots, yet close community feel, are protected with similar requirements on lot size for development. Two-acre lots will be preserved; and these communities will not be changed radically by infill development with flag lots. This is the biggest difference on its face. The County and Happy Valley will not preserve these neighborhoods. Instead of the Happy Valley preference for dense subdivisions covering rolling hills and the sides of buttes, home building will preserve the natural features. Hillsides and slopes will also be protected.
Then there comes the “Employment Lands” discussion. Industrial development, those commercial strip malls, office parks and Industrial lands bring jobs to a region. None of the Damascus Plans really thought deeply about attracting jobs. In fact commercial zoning allowed apartments which weren’t something anyone wanted in any of the Comp Plans. We got around this in the last few plans by being extremely open to 55+ communities. That met Metro’s requirements. Happy Valley and Gresham will zone apartments. They will also seek to have more wide open commercial land. We sought to protect our neighbors and let them continue to run their business in Damascus. Something I know the County won’t concern itself with; and Happy Valley will downright bring code enforcement to coerce many business owners into moving their operations out of our community.
Damascus is the only area inside the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) with a highway, ready access to I-205, and develop-able land over 100 acres in size. It’s also worth pointing out the county’s vision for our area prior to forming the city can be seen on Highway 212 as you exit Damascus driving to I-205. The County Commission is focused on job creation, not your opinion. That’s a fact. The county will not only allow industrial uses in your backyard, it will attract developers with Oregon State subsidies to boot to attract large employers to our area who will stay in the county as the cities develop around them, providing housing and retail. These industrial developers will also pay for the sewer, water and contribute large cash contributions called “System Development Charges” towards roads, sidewalks and other urbanizing infrastructure. That’s how it happened in Washington County and, unless there is a local controlling body, that’s exactly how it will happen in Clackamas.
If you live in Damascus and you are considering how to vote. A “YES” vote for disincorporation will mean Highway 212 will go the Way of Canyon and TV Highway in Washington County. To vote “NO” is to chart our own unique path as a Damascus Community. It will also mean we need new people to step forward and lead. I encourage you to not only vote “NO,” but also step forward and help lead Damascus forward.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Northwest Connection.)