DAMASCUS, Ore. (AP) — In 2004, residents in the rolling hills southeast of Portland created Oregon's newest city in hopes of providing urban amenities while preserving the area's rural character and independence.
Now, some say the effort was a failure. Four residents have taken out paperwork to hold a vote next year on disbanding the city, the Oregonian reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/12411XM ).
Damascus, now with a population of about 10,600, was created with the idea that it could maintain local control as it fended off annexation as the regional government Metro continued to expand Portland's urban growth boundary.
Regional planners designated the 18,000 acres of farms, forests and crossroads communities as the area's next big suburb, and it became the first new city in the state in two decades.
"It just didn't work. Failure. Failure. Failure," said George Samaan, who voted for the city. "We spent about $6 million, and we have no useful product to show for it."
The figure is the estimate applied to the city's failed effort to create a state-required comprehensive plan to guide development and zoning, one of the big sticking points as residents debated how and how much to develop the rural area.
In May 2011, after six years of planning, community meetings and rewriting, Damascus voters defeated a proposal 65 percent to 35 percent.
The Great Recession also took a toll, dashing projections of growth and rising property values. And the city's largest property owner sued it because the lack of a plan frustrated his proposal for a winery-centered development.
State transportation officials said they doubt Damascus will ever be able to get a plan approved, and they have withdrawn federal and state grants Damascus was using for transportation planning.
Mayor Steve Spinnett acknowledges frustrations but urged residents not to give up.
"We don't want to be annexed by another city," Spinnett said. "We want to determine our own destiny. It hasn't happened to date, but we are working on it."
It's unclear how Damascus residents would vote on disincorporation. Last month, a ballot measure to take part of the city out of the urban growth boundary failed by just a few dozen votes.
City Council member Mary Wescott, whose father-in-law was the first mayor, has changed her mind.
"We thought we could build a 21st century city, a city that would shine," she said. "It's not possible."
The initiative sponsors say disbanding the city would roll back the tax increase, about 24 percent, imposed after the city incorporated in 2004.
That would suit 86-year-old Lowell Patton, who owns 230 acres he has dreamed of developing into a winery, vineyard, houses and urban center. His lawsuit asks for $66 million in lost revenue.
"They have held us hostage all of these years," Patton said. "It would be beneficial to me to have the city go away. Since the city was incorporated, my taxes went up, and I got no benefit from that whatsoever."
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com