Metro battles Damascus

Metro’s battle for Damascus
By Ask Ask Damascus

Damascus incorporated just two years ago already has many dirty little secrets. The city was formed on the idea that this was the way to save the community from the clutches of Metro and 1,000 friends of Oregon. The idea was to have local control and that idea prevailed at the polls and Damascus was born. Whether the sell out was prior or after incorporation is debatable but it came swiftly and complete. Driven by Metro a committee was formed to plan the city and was used to claim public support. With Mayor Dee Wescott, two city councilors Barbara Ledbury and John Hartsock along with an attorney from 1,000 friends of Oregon on the committee the railroad had left the station.

The idea was an experimental city totally under government control for development and as a map put together by a local citizen would show to be quite profitable to many of those on the committee. Only portions of Damascus would be developable while over 35% of the city would be in a green overlay and not permitted to be developed. Dean Apostle a committee member and chief driver of the plan had recently purchased a piece of property that would appreciate greatly from this plan had another job. He was the unbiased reporter writing articles in the local paper, the Damascus Observer supporting this plan, no mention of his position on the committee or his possible profits. The plan started getting into trouble as citizens started attending meetings and were told they were either too early (This is only a draft and has not yet been accepted) or too late in the process (where were you when we first started talking about planning).

Enter the initiative process. Working for some time on initiatives that would bring control back to the citizens and with the help of Oregonians and members of the Executive Club, three initiatives have been drafted and qualified for circulation. Each of these measures are charter amendments.

1. No new taxes, charges or fees, or increases in either of these without a vote of the people.
2. Requires the city to compensate a property owner for any devaluation of property value by city action or the acquiescing to another action (i.e. Metro).
3. Prohibits the city from condemning property for the purpose of transferring to another private party.

These measures are very popular among the citizenry with approximately 17 in 20 people who are approached will sign all three. This has been a door to door campaign so has been very reliant on cooperative weather. We now have exceeded 80% of the required signatures on each initiative which is amazing since most of the people involved did not know each other one year ago and none have taken on a project like this before. Look for news of this project soon and I will keep you posted.

Dan Phegley (Chief Petitioner)
[email protected]

  • Jerry

    Dan – Good work. These people are selling everyone out. What did we expect? They are no better than the fools at Metro.
    I am deeply saddened by their blatant dishonesty. I hope all petitions qualify and that the people vote them in.

  • John Fairplay

    I applaud this effort to gain some control over yet another group of “citizen bureaucrats.” It also shows, again, how weak Oregon’s public corruption laws are. Here’s as clear a case of conflict of interest as you’re likely to find – but I doubt Mr. Apostle will pay any fines or do any jail time.

  • Captain_Anon

    Every story has two sides. i’m sure there is an equally compelling argument from the other side of this biased story.

    But a few thoughts. So what if they guy on the committee owns land in the city? typically those who govern a particular jurisdiction LIVE in the jurisdiction. what’s wrong with people speculating? it isn’t rocket science to know that if a city has just been formed, the land near the center will appreciate in value as a result. It’s also a small town, everyone knows everyone elses business, so i’m sure everyone already knows that the guy had the property and could POTENTIALLY profit from being incorporated. and realistically, even if the greenbelt idea flopped and all land was developable, the guys property would still appreciate in value. so there is no change there. Duh.

    even so, why the outcry? Where is the SAME outcry from the author and supporters over Larry George and Patti Smith?? George has several M37 claims pending and he’s the *Co-Chairman* on the fairness committee? why hasn’t he stepped down over conflict of interest? why hasn’t there been an outcry from this board over his not stepping down?? Smith’s immediate relatives have several very large measure 37 claims and yet she’s a high profile legistative member who is leading the charge on potential M37 legislation? why hasn’t she recused herself for conflict of interest? and why hasn’t the members of this board demanded she step aside?

    as for the proposed charter amendments: requiring a vote of the people to raise fees is ridiculous and an administrative nightmare. increases in park fees, permit fees, parking tickets, library fees, etc? I can see an increase in taxes going to a vote, but not fees and normal operating expenses. that’s insane. the second amendment, compensation – well, that’s already a constitutional right and not needed. Measure 37 also provides rights there that mean the amendment is moot. so why put another law on the books? the libertarians on this board should be in an uproar over it. and the last amendment, while a good one, already is on the state books as a result of last years election.

    • Zeke


      You’re totally out in left field. You demonstrate that you do not understand the situation in Damascus. We incorporated in self-defense. We didn’t want the character, shape, density, size, and atmosphere of our area dictated by Metro and its neo-traditional planning school graduates. Metro has forced unreasonable restrictions and requirements on town after town within the grasp of its tentacles.

      It is an Oregon tradition that politicians can get around having the approval of the voters for a new tax by calling it a fee, which will be imposed administratively. Requiring voter approval in the city charter is extremely important in order to prevent tax increases and runaway fee schedules.

      Perhaps you don’t own land in Damascus which is about to be made worthless by the idiotic requirements of Metro. It’s clear that much of the motivation behind Metro policies is a dislike and jealousy of those who own property in rural areas on which they live. It was a Metro president who coined the term “McMansion” to refer to a spacious home on a few acres in the country. Damascus was specifically targeted by Metro with the stated goal of getting rid of more McMansions. Metro intends to replace them with the same squalid apartment mega-complexes it has mandated elsewhere. Soon the rural pastures of Damascus will look like Happy Valley.

      I *do* own land in Damascus. Ordinarily it would be prime commercial land along a busy thoroughfare worth perhaps $800,000. Due to greenbelt restrictions and the proximity of a small seasonal stream, known in Metro-speak as “salmon habitat”, it will most likely be worth about $8000 as pasture. Metro and the eco-pressure groups behind the Damascus comprehensive plan think I should just donate $792,000 so that when my neighbor builds 400 apartments/condos on his 20 acres he can get a great price for them because my property will provide a nice view. Meanwhile I get to live here and get to know my 1600 new neighbors intimately because I can’t afford to sell.

      I have some advice for you. Take your ignorant knee-jerk opinions and advice elsewhere, like PSU, where they’ll be appreciated. Theory is one thing. Reality is another. Money talks and BS walks.

      • Captain_Anon

        So, i’m in left field because i DON’T believe Metro is out to stick it to the citizens of Damascus? Is Metro like the evil empire of star wars? going from solar system (town) to solar system and engulfing it? I don’t believe that. I don’t think Metro specifically targeted Damascus to rid the world of McMansions. I don’t think they care what kind of house you choose to live in. McMansion, tudor, bungalow, manufactured home. they could care less. oh, and as far as the term McMansion – check this out – It’s been a term for some time, and was not created by Metro or a metro president. or, do you have a source for that claim?

        You’re right on some levels. i don’t own land in damascus. so i don’t have an emotional attachment to the situation there. but since i don’t have a stake in what’s going on, i can also be unbiased. I can understand that since you own land there, it is more personal to you. I’m not so sure it is Metro who is trying to get the green-belt/no development area passed. From what i’ve read, it sounded like a citizen push. their website makes it seem so anyway. Regardless, Metros rules have been in place for sometime, and thier requirements are the law. so it’s up the local citizens to determine how they will be met. it an area chooses to urbanize, then they will need to meet the urban requirements, which does include density goals.

        Let’s be realistic about your land. What is it currently zoned? what was it zoned prior to Damascus being incorporated? what uses were allowed? what uses are currently allowed? those are all things that determine it’s value. it may or may not be worth 800,000. honestly, most people do not really know what thier property is worth and over value it. but yours may be. If its value is reduced, you have the option to file a Measure 37 claim. streams are required to be protected by the state, through an ESEE analysis – not metro. but metro has adopted rules that are in compliance with state requirements. so the stream on the property would most likely be protected anyway. so that doesn’t reduce the value of the property. and the greenbelt, unless i am mistaken, has been proposed to help protect the city from becoming like any other city out there. so, the citizens of damascus want that greenbelt – or at least a chance to vote on it. that’s government by the people, which is what most on this board stand for.

        and as far as my opinions… this isn’t a damascus-only board so i’m perfectly within my right to offer my thoughts and to play devils advocate with biased one-sided articles. I wasn’t aware that critical thinking wasn’t welcome on the board. but even if it’s not welcome. i’m going to do it anyway. and, if money talks and BS walks, you could always sell and get whatever price you can now.

  • PanchoPdx

    Capt Anon,

    Where do I start?

    The Damascus situation involves land speculators dividing the new town into winners and losers through self interested participation as members of the planning board.

    When Damascus residents found out that the self-interested planners were invariably picking themselves to be the winners they become (justifiably) angry.

    The M37 analogy is inapposite. With M37, voters (twice) approved changes to Oregon’s takings law based upon a principle of fairness (i.e., should gov’ts compensate landowners for value lost to landuse regulations that are not otherwise necessary for health or safety purposes).

    No one has accused Sen George or Rep Smith of using their positions to *advance* their personal interests. They are protecting the fairness principles that were twice approved by voters.

    M37 has the endorsement of the voters who were persuaded that the retroactive provisions were fair (reparations if you will).

    The Damascus planners had no such populist authority for creating city plans primarily designed to enrich themselves.

    It is amazing that you’d argue otherwise.

    As for the Damascus ballot measures. Instituting city-specific M37 and Kelo protections are an important safeguard as we watch meddling legislators attempt to undermine will of the voters the issues.

  • Captain_Anon


    I believe that when legislators, in a position of power on a committe that has direct impact on the outcome of legislation having a serious impact on Measure 37 changes, don’t recuse themselves and actually impede changes being discussed by a bi-partisan committe to fix the problems of M37, they are in fact doing what is being accused of the Damascas city leaders. they have everything to gain, or lose by what the fairness committee decides. yes, measure 37 was voted and approved by the voters. and public sentiment on it has changed drastically. many who voted for it would gladly alter thier votes to ‘no’ based on the fall out. with that in mind, the legislature is attempting to find fixes and compromises to the laws that move forward the will of the voters while clearing out the problems that have erupted from poor measuring writing.

    Now, my understanding of the Damascus situation is that the city – led by the choice of the voters as determined in thier election – wants a green belt or something around the city. so, they sat down and began to put on paper the will of the people. and, some of the city leaders have land in the area. now, my question to you, or the author of the article, is can they show proof of gerrymandering so that parcels owned by city leaders were deliberately brought into the area that could be built on while leaving adjacent parcels outside of it? because if the properties owned by the city leaders are well within the boundaries, than i think it’s hardly appropriate to say they fixed the boundary to benefit themselves and purposely screw others out. which is why i said there are two sides to every story. who knows just how skewed this guys article is. the truth may be completely different than what he asserts. context matters.

    My point on the ballot measures is that many libertarians on this board get upset when the state tries to write laws that double up on federal laws. or on other state laws. such as hate crime legislation. there are already laws on the books which levy punishments for crimes, so they would say there is no need to have hate cimes on the books. likewise, they would say that we already have laws on reckless driving so we don’t need a cell phone ban. the same would be true of local kelo and M37 laws on the books.

    • Dan Phegley


      By putting about 37% of the city in the green system the supply I am sure you will agree is cut tremendously. Basic economics dictates that cutting supply artificially raises prices on available and useable land. You don’t have to corner the market, just restrict the competition. Your thought that this manipulation results in no change is something I must disagree with. Your idea regarding Mister George appears to be a glaring double standard. Eliminating competition in Damascus to make a buck is ok while trying to institute rules that apply evenly across the board should not be allowed. Your thinking there makes no sense to me.

      I am glad you brought up how ridiculous it is to have citizens actually voting on taxes and fees, as this is the typical response from government when citizen involvement is to be avoided. You mention in particular park fees, Damascus has none so voting to institute this fee seems logical to me. Permit fees are currently handled by the county and until the city can show they can do the job more efficiently why should they expand into this? Library fees? I am not aware of any city that has its own library, that is a county function so why are you advocating the city charge a fee for something they do not provide? A democracy by definition does not work as efficiently as a dictatorship, but rule from the bottom up has worked very well for this country, why change it.

      Your comment that our measure #2 is not needed because it is a constitutional right (measure 37) shows an appalling ignorance on the subject. Measure 37 is not constitutional it is statutory and thus is subject to interpretation by the legislature which appears intent on thwarting the will of the people again. Placing this in the city charter keeps governing bodies from tampering with the will of the people, a change can be made but only by a vote of the people.

      Your second letter uses the same argument against our measure #3 (KELO) or the prohibiting of a city from condemning land to transfer to another private party. You are wrong again, the vote in Oregon did not make a constitutional amendment but this was statutory. Were you aware that the decision in the KELO case cited the absence of a prohibition of this condemnation in the CITY CHARTER allowed this to happen?

      Your second letter speaks of your understanding of how this happened in Damascus. While it is true the citizens voted to incorporate they did not vote or indicate they wanted the green zone, in fact the demonstrations against this overlay forced a delay in this plan.

      The real point in both your letters appears to be how to limit citizen input. In our nation the test of ideas and the openness of the system relies on the ballot box so why do so many want to stop the voting process? We would do well to remember this part of the Oregon constitution;

      Section 1. Natural rights inherent in people. We declare that all men, when they form a social compact are equal in right: that all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper. —

      Why is this the very first paragraph of the Oregon Constitution? Perhaps our founding fathers wanted to make it clear who is to be in charge, an idea the new elite would like to ignore.

      Thanks, Dan Phegley

  • Jerry

    I only hope this can all come out in the open so we can see just what is going on.
    What happened to our sunshine laws?

  • Captain_Anon

    I did find online that the group wanting to have the development limitations have a site and indicate who they are. i’m sure that property information can be obtained through the county as well. while it’s not easily obtainable, it is out there. So if people do want to look into it, they can, which is cool

  • Damascus resident

    Why if we are a city do we have to follow our county rules for developement? Can we not develop as we go and make a reasonable city that our children can enjoy and have space to use.
    Currently we are required to have a density of 7-10 houses per acre.
    What happens in cities where everyone is crammed together?
    Just ask gresham,Hillsboro and Beaverton. CRIME CRIME Domestic abuse,and mutitude of other undesireable effects.
    Why can’t we make our city different?? Grow slow and manage it !!
    Don’t be driven by IDIOTS from Clackamas county!!!
    If Portland wants more density let them have it but leave our city alone!!!! Your not in our plan and our childrens plan.
    To have a livable city with some space to do what we want with our property!!!!

    • Captain_Anon

      Density is not what causes crime. domestic abuse is a result of poor choices by individuals, often fueled by thier own baggage. it’s not because there is an apartment complex next door.

      I do think it’s interesting though your take on city growth – “grow slow and manage it.” Many on this board, including Zeke, appear to have the opposite opinion. They want to be able to grow as fast as they can and increase the value of thier property. neither opinion is wrong, but they definitely conflict with each other. In such cases, how does a community rectify thier differences? It really isn’t a situation where reasonable people can have differences of opinion and not be strong armed by the government. it’s just people with different opinions.

  • Dean Apostol

    Interesting exchange. As the accused corrupt citizen who manipulated the entire concept plan of Damascus to enrich myself, I hope you will all indulge me a few words.

    First, my name is spelled A-P-O-S-T-O-L. Mr. Phegley, if you are going to slander someone in public, get their names spelled right.

    Second, The advisory committee for the concept plan included 26 individuals, of whom 13 are local citizens who own property in the Damascus-Boring-Happy Valley area. (All 3 areas were inluded in the plan). I served as a volunteer on this committee for 2+ years, and in all that time only once did a committee member speak out and say they wanted some particular outcome for their land. In her case, she is from a farm family and she asked that the proposed Damascus downtown, the area that would likely have THE HIGHEST per acre dollar value, be moved elsewhere so that her family could keep farming.

    Dee Wescott, Damascus’ Honorable Mayor, owns property in the existing “downtown” of Damascus. He would have gained the most economic value if we had kept the downtown in its present location, rather than move it 2 miles east as the plan proposes. Yet he was an enthusiastic supporter of the proposed move, AND did not object when the plan included a highway extension RIGHT THROUGH THE CENTER OF HIS PROPERTY.

    Another committee member, John Fergusen, lives well within the proposed “green” area, and while the plan was in progress purchased 3 acres adjacent to his property in order to is a strong advocate for conservation.

    Third, what about this proposed “37% green” in the Damascus area? Is it a “land grab”? Is it taking away anyone’s property rights?

    Most of the proposed green, about 70% of the total, consists of stream corridors, wetlands, and slopes over 25% in steepness. Why shouldn’t we just pave over all this? Well, it could be because Damascus area citizens will all end up drinking the water that lands on us. So one could say we have an interest in keeping our drinking water clean. Developing steep slopes results in soil washing into streams and later into our water pipes. State laws and development rules allow local jurisdictions to protect natural resources. There is some flexibility in how to do this.

    The remaining “green” inludes areas of 15-25% slopes, and a small amount for conventional city parks. Land purchased for parks (and schools) would be paid fair market value, based either on current zoning or re-zoning to higher levels of development.

    Lands in the “green” area would for the most part be granted new development rights, but at LOWER DENSITIES than the flatter and better drained parts. If you own 40 acres of forest or farm land in a proposed green area, you would be able to build at least 4, and possibly as many as 40 new homes. Those arguing for large lots and big homes should be happy about this. I also have strongly advocated that Damascus have a “transferable development rights” option for property owners in green areas. This would allow them to sell their rights to build new homes to land owners elsewhere. (I know of two property owners in the buttes, one with 80 acres and one with 40, who have no wish to develop their properties and would prefer to sell any new development rights off site).

    I have a 5 acre farm in the Sunshine Valley. No streams, no wetlands, no steep slopes. So this plan, or any plan for creating a new town in Damascus, would identify my 5 acres for urban levels of development. I did not have to manipulate the process to get this sort of outcome. I could have stayed home, sat the whole thing out, saved the 10 hours a week of volunteer work for 2 years, and ended up with the same increased value at the end of the day.

    When Metro first came to our community and informed us that they were considering moving the urban growth boundary around our homes and land, I worked with my neighbors to try and change their minds. I helped write and circulate a petition, signed by over 230 of my neighbors within a few weeks, that would have limited urban development to a relatively small area around the present downtown of Damascus. It would have conserved most of the land, far more than 37%, in its present farm, forest, and rural home use. This larger conservation included my own land. At the time, I joked with my family that I was going to cost us a lot of money. But I lost the argument with Metro.

    One final point. The people who live in this area have been asked on about 1/2 dozen occasions what they want with respect to land use planning. Consitently, they have said they want to conserve as much existing open space as is possible. This includes farms, forests, streams, wetlands, and scenic views. The beauty and productivity of this land is why most of us moved here. So to the extent that the concept plan proposes a bit over 1/3 of the land in a somewhat conserved state, it reflects the aspirations of 60-75% of the local community. Money is not everything my friends. There are more important things in life, and most Damascans seem to know this.

    Mr. Phegley, I have no idea what your motivations are, or what it is you hope to accomplish. But continuing to accuse your neighbors of dishonesty and corruption, without a shred of evidence beyond your own suspicions, is un-neghborly, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Doug Walker

    Well Dan, Its kind of nice reading a letter directed at the people of Damascus that they can clearly understand!
    Keep up the clear language and this city may have a chance.
    Doug Walker at [email protected]