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Properties no longer accepted into city limits, pending a decision by Oregon Court of Appeals

Oregon City has again reversed course on its annexation policy and will no longer accept properties into city limits, pending a decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

City officials will make exceptions for single-home properties with failing septic systems needing emergency annexations into city sewer lines, but larger properties coming into the city for housing subdivisions are largely off the table for now.

In 2016, Gov. Kate Brown signed into law an attempt to bypass city requirements for voter approval of property annexations in 34 cities, including Oregon City. Although the city of Corvallis and the League of Oregon Cities challenged the constitutionality of the law in court, Oregon City's elected officials at the time decided to stay out of the lawsuit and begin to approve annexations without voter approval.

Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay supported the bill to bypass voter approval of annexations, saying he regretted campaigning for the city's voter-approved annexation requirement in 1999. Holladay has reversed course again in voting for the revised annexation policy on Nov. 20.

Commissioner Rocky Smith joined the 4-1 decision on Nov. 20, saying he believed that he won election back onto the commission in 2018 in part due to his public stance in favor of voter-approved annexations. Smith is among the Oregon City Commission's three new members this year.

Another new member of the city commission this year, Rachel Lyles Smith, voted against changing the annexation policy, saying that state law trumps city code, although she generally supports the right of citizens to vote on bringing properties into city limits.

Commissioner Denyse McGriff voted no in a separate 3-1 decision on Nov. 20 by elected officials to approve one more annexation application prior to the Court of Appeals decision. Commissioners approved the annexation of about 1 acre for a seven-home subdivision near Clackamas Community College on Maplelane Road because it was the only annexation development application in the pipeline. The majority of commissioners didn't want to punish a developer who had followed all the rules.

"Annexation by the city of Oregon City citizens needs to happen regardless of what size it is or who it is," McGriff said.

Oregon City is facing a lawsuit over an approximately 92-acre annexation in the Park Place Neighborhood that the city approved without referring to voters in 2018. Commissioner Frank O'Donnell was the only commissioner to vote against last year's annexation application based on the "home rule" provision of the Oregon Constitution.

In joining the 4-1 decision on Nov. 20, O'Donnell said he wished that he had known it was an option to stop accepting most land into the city pending the appeal-court decision. City attorney Bill Kabeiseman said there is always risk to the city for lawsuits, no matter what its annexation policy is.

"Whatever course the city chooses there is potential liability," Kabeiseman said. "What I would recommend is you do what's right."

2018 FILE PHOTO - In 2018, Oregon City commissioners denied a request for an emergency moratorium of forest clearcutting in the area of a 92-acre annexation in the Park Place Neighborhood.Park Place residents Barbara and Ray Renken's lawsuit is currently before the Oregon Supreme Court. The Renkens and the city are debating whether Oregon City commissioners (excepting O'Donnell) last year violated their oaths of office by not considering whether SB 1573 was constitutional, and in approving the Park Place annexation without submitting it to a public vote in accordance with the Oregon City Charter.

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