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Damascus Voters Choose To Turn Reigns Of Governance Over To The County

Bill Wehr

Bill Wehr, Council President

The majority of voters in Damascus, by a 2-1 margin chose to disincorporate the City in the May 2016 election. Approximately 60% plus turned out to vote, which is higher than most past May elections. As of July 18, 2016 Damascus will no longer be a self-governing entity with the privilege of its own home rule charter. All the City’s citizens and properties will come under the direct jurisdiction of Clackamas County. Some, that border on Happy Valley will apply to be annexed into that city. But the issues that have challenged those that stay as unincorporated county will still remain. Now, the County will control the processes to resolve them.
Damascus has its own police force, including its own chief and officers. It is contracted annually with the Clackamas County Sheriff. Each year the City Budget Committee determined the level of service we wanted weighed against the cost that fit our community. Now that we voted to disincorporate, we will temporarily have what is referred to as “enhanced service” through mid July 2017. After that we will most likely revert to a county patrol district. The district would cover our city limits, Boring area including up to and around Sandy. The whole area would be covered from 7am-3am with two deputies. After that 1 deputy. What we have been used to concerning response time and quality of service only time will tell.
For those of you that voted against the comprehensive plans, five of them over the years, Clackamas County is stepping up to fill the void. Not wasting any time, the Clackamas County Planning and Zoning Division sent a postcard at the end of May notifying property owners in Damascus that their properties may be affected by proposed changes of land use. The city’s current zoning is the County regulations of 2005, which were adopted by our city council early on as a temporary comprehensive plan. The County has made amendments to its comprehensive plan since 2005. The current County zoning will apply to Damascus properties, but the amended regulations for each zoning since 2005 are not all in alignment. In the process to have Damascus zoning regulations adjusted to County level there are public hearings to explain how the County is proposing conforming Damascus to regional standards. This is happening quickly, as a Clackamas Planning Commission hearing is scheduled June 13 and Clackamas Commissioners June 22nd.
Are you feeling the traffic congestion yet? Right now there is major development along the 172nd corridor. 172nd is currently a County road within the City of Happy Valley. The construction of the Fred Meyer shopping center at 172nd and Sunnyside has been in progress for a number of months. There are housing developments going along 172nd to Foster. In addition, General Distributors has yet to break ground on its beer distributing truck facility near 172nd and Hwy 212. This may result in hundreds of additional trucks per day in and out daily. To try to control traffic congestion, safety and growth for the future one proposal the County has forwarded is that 172nd become a five lane street with turn lanes, bike paths and sidewalks. This would conform with regional planning. The County at some point will be negotiating with Happy Valley to take over the responsibility of 172nd. The residents of what used to be Damascus will not be at the table when important decisions are made that impact noise, pollution, environment, safety and other serious matters.
By voting to disincorporate, all our electors lost their ability to vote on two local ballot measures this November concerning marijuana. The County will now administer marijuana growing, processing, wholesale and retail sales for this area. A number of Clackamas County cities this November will be voting their preferences as to whether they want marijuana business or how they will control time, manner and place. As a now unincorporated area, with much agricultural land and open space, there will surely be those that see the Damascus area as a wide open business opportunity, since they would be shut out of other areas.
Damascus is starting a new chapter after over a decade of trying to do it on its own. The issues are still here. We have decided to leave those decisions that impact our taxes and quality of life to regional government.

(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Northwest Connection.)

 

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