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Durango City Council passes petition ordinance sparked by fire station, with a caveat

Residents railed against a perceived lack of public involvement in sale of school administration building
Durango City Council approved an ordinance petition submitted by Citizens Voice Durango, a coalition of residents and businesses, that would require a change in planning commission status for fire and police developments from “allowed” to “conditional” use, which would require public hearings for developments involving the departments. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Durango City Council voted 4-1 to approve a citizen petition ordinance that requires more public hearings for fire and police developments downtown.

The vote comes after an overwhelming display of support for the ordinance from petitioners and city and La Plata County residents during a public hearing Thursday evening.

Residents, petitioners and even some Durango Planning Commission members sent a strong message: Pass the citizen-initiated ordinance tonight.

Adoption of the ordinance will require a second reading, but Mayor Barbara Noseworthy and councilors Melissa Youssef, Kim Baxter and Jessika Buell all voted to approve the ordinance. Councilor Olivier Bosmans voted against the ordinance, saying he couldn’t support a caveat that others supported: The new ordinance must be adjusted to address concerns of planning commissioners.

Baxter motioned to adopt the ordinance with the condition that the city pursue a process of refining the ordinance so that it meets Planning Commission codes with “any adjustments that seem necessary.”

Noseworthy also supported the ordinance, but supported amending it because it is “flawed” as presented.

Youssef said she couldn’t see herself rejecting the ordinance, but she does support amendments to it to make it more suitable.

Buell said she does not support getting “bullied” into a decision about whether to adopt the ordinance or to send it to a special election and was met with boo’s from the crowd that had gathered for the hearing.

She said she is torn: She wants to ensure all residents are heard through an election, but she also wants to “engage and support” the citizens initiative.

She voted in approval with the assurance the city can make modifications as necessary.

More than 25 people, not including councilors, spoke at the public hearing. All but one expressed support for passing the ordinance, although several planning commissioners expressed concern about the proposed ordinance having “unintended consequences.”

Matt Payne, chairman of the Planning Commission, said he signed the ordinance petition. He said he felt like residents need more of a voice in the process of deciding what developments take place for fire and police departments.

But he was worried the phrase “shall conform with all city plans” appears in the citizen petitioned ordinance. That word is a binding term, and he proposed a simple adjustment to the phrase “should consider” instead.

A major concern expressed by attendees centered around a lack of public engagement involving the sale of the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building to the Durango Fire Protection District. Residents also noted the lack of City Council’s involvement in the process.

Councilors were adamant that they were not in the know about the 9-R building’s purchase until it had been publicly announced in December.

Resident Thomas Egolf said it is “pretty obvious, at least to me, that holding a hearing on significant projects, ordinances or decisions is a smart, appropriate and necessary step in our city government’s processes.”

He said the citizen ordinance requires greater public involvement, and Thursday’s hearing “proves their necessity.”

“City Councilors, your vote tonight whether to adopt the ordinance or whether to decline to adopt and therefore push to a public vote is a clear, undeniable and public disclosure of your position toward the citizens,” he said. “Your constituents.”

Egolf asked the council to “do the right thing” and adopt the ordinance “without further delay, cost or consequences.”

Durango resident and petitioner Sarah Shaw said she had more than 70 signatures on her petition for the draft ordinance. She spent over 20 minutes in some cases explaining to people what the ordinance was about. She asked councilors to forego spending money on a special election and to approve the ordinance presented.


An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect first name for Sarah Shaw. Also, Matt Payne, chairman of the Planning Commission, said language in the petition should be changed from “shall conform with all city plans” to instead say “should consider.”

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