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Group seeks to repeal city laws

Petitioners don’t want retail marijuana sales in mixed-use neighborhoods

Residents have started collecting signatures to repeal laws approved by Durango City Council to regulate marijuana shops and vacation rentals.

Lawyers for a citizens group submitted six affidavits to start a referendum earlier this month, and four were approved. Durango City Clerk Amy Phillips issued petitions, forms for the signatures, to a committee of registered voters this week.

A referendum is a petition to the council to repeal a law, which suspends the law pending the referendum vote. If the council rejects it, the proposal can go to a public vote.

Some Durangoans were upset about the vacation-rental ordinance that capped vacation rentals at 5 percent in the two established neighborhoods – one in the downtown area and the other along West Second and West Third avenues – with up to two rentals per street segment. More neighbors favored a 3 percent cap. They also fought allowing retail marijuana stores in mixed-use neighborhoods, especially Acme Healing Center near College Drive and East Third Avenue.

The group is protesting the retail and medical ordinances and the vacation-rental ordinance that council approved in June. It also is challenging the ordinance that gives the city’s Local Licensing Authority the ability to approve new licenses for retail and medical marijuana dispensaries.

The two failed affidavits attempted to oppose only pot in mixed-use neighborhoods, but City Attorney Dirk Nelson said he couldn’t read Durango’s charter to allow citizens to seek repeal just portions of an ordinance.

“Unfortunately, the language I think is pretty clear in the charter,” Nelson said. “It just wasn’t contemplated to ask for a repeal of just parts of it.”

“The Petitioners Committee is not against medical or retail marijuana establishments generally,” said attorney Nick Anesi, one of the lawyers involved in the push, in an email response. “It is against having such establishments within neighborhoods.”

Anesi said they challenged the medical marijuana ordinance to avoid the possibility of a business getting a retail license in a neighborhood in a “roundabout method” by expanding into retail sales. They also objected to the local licensing ordinance to eliminate the board’s ability to change zoning requirements.

The threat of at least some of the referendum challenges may go away after Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The councilors are expected to reconsider the 3 percent cap on vacation rentals. They have also discussed repealing and approving new marijuana ordinances that remove the mixed-use neighborhood zoning language.

“Then you have really three choices,” Nelson said. “Put the (mixed-use-neighborhood language) back in as a separate ordinance, leave the MUN (language) out by doing nothing at that point ... (or) put the MUN back in except for the areas around College (Drive) and Eighth Avenue.”

Residents have about 30 days to collect signatures. Durango resident Joe Gambone has said the group would need to collect around 344 signatures.


Referendum process

A group of five or more registered Durango voters may start the referendum process by filing an affidavit with the city clerk stating they will be the petitioner’s committee, be responsible for circulating the petitions, filing them, giving their names and address and specifying the address to which all notices to the committee can be sent. The affidavit must be filed with the city clerk no later than 30 days after the final approval by the City Council of the ordinance.

The city clerk shall prepare the petition for the referendum and determine the number of signatures necessary, which will not be less than 10 percent of the total vote cast in the last municipal election.

Residents have 30 days to get the signatures. After obtaining the necessary signatures, the petitions shall be returned to the clerk, who has to certify them within 10 days. The petitioners get an additional 10 days if more signatures are needed.

If the petitions are certified by the city clerk, the clerk will present the petitions to the City Council at the next regularly scheduled meeting. The council can repeal the original ordinance. If the ordinance is not entirely repealed, the proposed referendum ordinance shall be submitted without alteration to the city voters. The election must be held within 90 days, but not less than 30 days after certification.

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