Local ballot may include Smart Growth Initiative
by Amy Maestas

A local grass-roots organization concerned about the city’s boundaries sprawling into undeveloped areas is mounting a new campaign to get a responsible growth initiative on November’s ballot.

Friends of the Animas Valley, which formed last year to defeat the proposed River Trails Ranch north of city limits, is beginning work on getting a petition approved to circulate among registered city voters. If successful, the petition would secure a place on the ballot during this year’s general election. Essentially, the initiative would ask residents to vote in favor of requiring the city government to get voter approval before annexing property into city limits.

To achieve this, says Renee Parsons, president of FOAV, voters would choose to amend an article in the city’s Land Use and Development Code. The amendment would include a new section titled Responsible Growth.

“We don’t consider this (initiative) as anti-growth or no-growth,” Parsons says. “It’s just an avenue to get city voters to be part of the process.”

The key elements of the proposed initiative would require the city to:

-Obtain voter approval of all annexations except parcels of 10 residential dwelling units or less and permanently dedicated open space.

-Obtain voter approval for any development applications resulting in new commercial construction with a combined size of 40,000 square feet or greater.

-Provide adequate public infrastructure (e.g. roads, schools, water, sewer) for any proposed annexation and/or final plan approval unless adverse impacts on the public infrastructure are judged insignificant.

Parsons says that the group and supporters of such an initiative are concerned that unbridled growth in Durango will inevitably destroy the city’s sense of community and character.

“Growth seems to be uncontrolled (in the city) right now,” she says. “But we don’t look at this as stopping all growth. We think it’s a pretty responsible package.”

This attempt at putting such an initiative on the ballot is a first in the history of Durango. In 2000, Colorado voters were asked to approve or reject a similar initiative. That effort took a bottom-up, local-control approach and proposed that citizens in Colorado communities be allowed to vote on developments in their respective communities. Ultimately, voters defeated the statewide initiative. But since then, several Colorado communities have proposed – and many have approved – similar responsible growth plans. Parsons says FOAV members have studied what these communities and about 25 others in Oregon have done for guidance.

To get the initiative on the ballot requires organizers to circulate a city-approved petition and obtain signatures equal to 15 percent of the number of ballots cast in the last city election, which City Clerk Linda Yeager says amounts to just more than 550. Parsons says the group is in the process of certifying petition circulators, after which they will turn over the proposals to Yeager’s office. Once the petitions are confirmed, organizers will begin a 30-day effort to educate city residents and gain their support by signing the petition.







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