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Our View: Civic action at its best

No matter side you’re on, citizens group taking legitimate steps

If you were out and about last week, you may have seen Citizens Voice Durango members out in the wind, standing behind long tables with flapping papers, clipboards of petitions and toy red fire trucks. The group’s intention is to force the city to change its code for fire and police developments from allowed use to conditional use, ahead of the Durango Fire Protection District’s proposed conversion of the 9-R Administration Building.

Citizens Voice Durango, with 30-plus members, has gone old-school, sharing plans in spiral notebooks, asking neighbors to chat, calling their contacts and ringing doorbells, seeking signatures. Community members walked over to tables, rolled in on bikes and strolled in with babies, who couldn’t resist the trucks. They hovered around tables, heads tilted forward in conversations that ventured from the petition at hand to long-range visions for Durango. Most every person had something to say.

No matter how you feel about this initiative, there is something to be said about taking legitimate civic action when citizens don’t feel heard or seen. Within the context of what’s happening in the world outside of Durango, in our national and global political landscape, this local action is pretty dang good. No name-calling. No theatrics. Just community engagement at its most basic, grassroots level.

We’re not using this editorial to excavate the history that brought us to this moment, the players and who said what to whom, and what wasn’t clearly said or substantiated. The lack of follow-up. A forum that felt like a presentation. School board meetings that people didn’t attend. We’re interested in this snapshot in time, now, and where we go from here.

Allowed uses make space for things we don’t necessarily want to live by, such as group homes or fire stations, and are subject to administrative review through the city’s Planning Commission. Conditional uses require a legal public hearing process with the Planning Commission, which could then refer the matter to City Council. Discussions around conditional uses bring in the merits and appropriateness of projects.

If the initiative succeeds, City Council could adopt the proposed ordinance or send it to a special election.

The last we looked, the petitions likely had enough signatures for this to be finalized by May 7, despite the ones thrown out from county residents outside of Durango’s tight city limits. But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.

“If nothing else, the petition is simply an effort by the citizens to ask to have a legitimate voice in the discussion of the appropriateness of this site through public hearings,” Greg Hoch, a member of Citizens Voice Durango, said in The Durango Herald on April 23.

Overhearing side conversations around those tables, it was clear that locals want to participate in the process. One man wanted a public conversation. Another woman wanted accountability. Someone else wanted to discuss impact. Somehow, we’ve gotten so caught up in talking about the cost of living here and the lack of housing, we haven’t prioritized spaces for city services and the people who come to our rescue. The first responders. Yet, no one of us likes to feel that we don’t have a say in how our communities are changing.

Inevitably, the question comes up, what is the city’s plan for River City Hall? We can’t look at the 9-R property in isolation without considering, more closely, the city property under DFPD and possible uses within the land use code. The lens naturally swings in this direction.

By showing up to sign petitions, Durango has spoken. It wants a voice in the process, which is all we really have. This process that holds up our institutions.

We expect spirited debates on the highest, best uses of properties, which, by the way, will all be in the cross hairs. We just want conversations to be civil, respectful and effective. We want to be included.