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Citizens Voice Durango petition appears to meet requirements

City Clerk’s Office has 10 days to confirm status of initiative
Ted Wright, an organizer with Citizens Voice Durango, explains the group’s petition to Alexandra Osborne on April 21 in front of the Smiley Building. Citizens Voice Durango’s monthlong initiative ended at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Based on the initial petitions the City Clerk’s Office has processed, the initiative will likely have the 768 signatures it needs, said City Clerk Faye Harmer. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Citizens Voice Durango’s initiative aimed at changing the city’s code for fire and police developments came to an end at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Initial signs suggest their efforts have been successful.

In all, the Durango City Clerk’s Office issued 65 petitions to Citizens Voice Durango each with 30 signatures. Citizens Voice Durango’s organizing committee returned 63 petitions ahead of Wednesday’s deadline, according City Clerk Faye Harmer.

Ellen Stein, one of the organizers of Citizens Voice Durango, said some of the petitions may not have had all 30 signatures.

The Durango City Clerk’s Office now has 10 days to process the signatures, verifying and tallying them to see if the initiative meets the 768 valid signatures it needs.

Harmer said that gives her office until Saturday, May 7, to finalize the count.

“We anticipate that we’ll have them done prior to that, but that is our drop-dead deadline,” she said.

The City Clerk’s Office has been preemptively processing the petitions, but it still has a ways to go. Six City Council meetings between Thursday and Tuesday will likely push a final count until next week, she said.

However, if the petitions the City Clerk’s Office has gone through so far are any estimate, the initiative will likely succeed, Harmer said.

“I’m guessing based on our current progress that the petitions are probably going to be sufficient. That’s an informal guess at this point, but it’s looking like they’re going to have enough signatures,” she said.

If Citizens Voice Durango’s initiative does meet the signature criteria, Harmer will issue a “certificate of sufficiency” at which point the petition will be placed on the agenda for City Council’s next regular meeting on May 17. At that time, City Council can decide to adopt the group’s proposed ordinance as drafted or send it to a special election in early August.

A special election would cost the city $38,000, according to estimates from Citizens Voice Durango.

If the initiative does not have the required signatories, Harmer will deem the effort insufficient, at which time Citizens Voice Durango will have 10 days to “cure,” or fix, the petitions by tracking down those who signed the petition but whose signatures the City Clerk’s Office ruled invalid.

Signatories must be registered voters who live within the city limits of Durango and their names and addresses must match their voter registration information exactly.

The city clerk would then have five days to verify those updated signatures.

Citizens Voice Durango started the initiative in response to plans from the Durango Fire Protection District to transform the former Durango School District 9-R Administration Building into a new fire station.

The group has argued that public input has been limited throughout the sale and planning for the property at 201 E. 12th St. in Durango’s Central Business District. The initiative is aimed at increasing the opportunity for public conversation surrounding the development.

Specifically, Citizens Voice Durango’s petition would change the city’s code so that fire and police stations are “conditional uses” in the CBD instead of “allowed uses.”

Ted Wright, an organizer with Citizens Voice Durango, stands by the group’s petition signing booth on April 21 outside the Smiley Building. Citizens Voice Durango saw support grow in the last week ahead of Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline with even county residents encouraging their friends who live within city limits to sign the petition, said Greg Hoch, a Citizens Voice Durango organizer and the committee’s chairman. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Allowed uses are subject to administrative review and could theoretically pass through the city’s division of planning without going through the Planning Commission.

DFPD’s redevelopment of the 9-R Administration Building will likely require a major site plan review, which would necessitate that DFPD’s plans go through the Planning Commission, said Kevin Hall, the city’s managing director of Community Development.

City Council has also agreed to hold a public meeting when DFPD submits its plans for the building. However, by changing fire stations from an allowed use to a conditional use, Citizens Voice Durango’s petition would require a public hearing, which is a legal proceeding, in contrast to City Council’s proposed public meeting which is informal and not obligatory.

DFPD has maintained that it has waited nearly four decades to relocate and modernize its downtown fire station. The 9-R Administration Building is one of the few locations within the CBD where DFPD could site its downtown station, according to Deputy Chief Randy Black.

Ahead of Wednesday’s deadline, Citizens Voice Durango has pushed to get the required signatures, hosting a table outside of the Smiley Building until 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The group initially struggled to obtain signatures that met all the required conditions for the petition, but as organizers learned over their monthlong campaign they improved their efforts and collected more signatures, Stein said.

“We did way better as we got better at this,” she said.

Support for the initiative has swelled over the last week, said Greg Hoch, another Citizens Voice Durango organizer and the committee’s chairman.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of support for this that’s emerged recently, not only from city residents, but from county residents urging their city friends to get behind us,” he said. “It’s just been remarkable.”

Less than an hour before the deadline, a couple sought out the organizers to sign the petition.

“I said, ‘What’s your main concern?’ and they said, ‘A lack of a sense of accountability and a lack of public discussion,’” Stein said.

One of the people was not against DFPD’s plans for the 9-R Administration Building, but they wanted to see a public conversation, Stein said.

Even if Citizens Voice Durango’s petition fails, the initiative was a success, Hoch said.

“Early on (DFPD) took to calling us just a bunch of NIMBYs, a small handful of people throwing a fit,” he said. “I believe that this petition, even if it doesn’t quite meet the number, proves that it’s more than just a NIMBY issue in the Durango community. It’s a communitywide concern that has been expressed by people signing the petitions. They come from every neighborhood, and that’s what’s been really gratifying.”


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