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Drama over comprehensive plan continues in Damascus
The city of Damascus is using stalling tactics to try to thwart a citizens group from placing another land use comprehensive plan on the November ballot, says Richard Johnson of Move Damascus Forward.
The mayors comp plan had already been placed on the ballot after it got the most votes in the May 20 election when three comp plans were put before voters. The three plans were: the mayors plan, which leans heavily toward development, the council presidents plan favoring environmental concerns and the 2013 plan, sponsored by Johnsons group.
The 2013 plan is the most viable, Johnson said, because it was developed over several years with thousands of hours of citizen input and bipartisan support. The mayor objected to the 2013 plan because it would have restricted development on his own 11-acre parcel, Johnson said, and it was rejected by the Damascus City Council last year. As a result, the entire planning commission, the citizens' involvement committee and the code development committee resigned en masse, and formed the basis of Move Damascus Forward, Johnson said. But Damascus city spokesman Todd Loggan said the planning commission did not all resign, and most but not all of the citizens' involvement committee resigned. Loggan also said the resignations came a month before the council rejected the original plan.
Johnson's group was successful in gathering 700 signatures to get the 2013 plan on the May ballot, but now the city is trying to keep the same thing from happening, Johnson said, by waiting until the very last day of the time period within which they could object to the proposed measure, leaving little time to gather signatures.
Johnson said Damascus new planning director, Mark Fitz, filed an objection to the 2013 comp plan ballot title and a judge will give a determination at 1:30 p.m. Monday, July 28.
However, Loggan pointed out that as chair of the planning commission, Fitz is a volunteer, not a paid city official.
If the ruling is in their favor, that will only give Johnson and his volunteers a few days to collect signatures, he said, and though not illegal, it is definitely a delaying tactic.
Hes trying to run out the clock so we wont have time to collect signatures, Johnson said.
If the judge rules in favor of letting the 2013 plan go on the ballot and enough signatures are collected, the City Council has no choice but to approve putting the plan on the ballot, Johnson said.
If the city had not raised an objection with the courts, Johnsons group would have had about two weeks to collect signatures, he said, but now they only have about four days.
The problem is that its the middle of the week and not going to be on a weekend, he said. We have to catch people home and its going to be difficult.
Only about 300 signatures are required to get the 2013 plan on the ballot, he said, but theyre shooting for 500 to be sure.
Johnson said he feels the mayor has bypassed the democratic process by pushing through his own comp plan.
This plan has been worked on going back to 2004 and I was on the original committee, Johnson said.
Councilor Jim De Young, who supports the 2013 comp plan, said citizens gave input to the plan for more than a year and it was vetted through 15 town halls, countless planning commission meetings and 20-some days of City Council meetings.
De Young said he feels the potential is great for the 2013 plan to beat the mayors plan in November.
Let the people who helped form and paid millions of their tax dollars for this (2013) comprehensive plan have the opportunity to vote on it, he said. It differs significantly from the mayors plan on the crucial issues.
Johnson said he hopes people will be receptive to petitioners and agree to place the 2013 plan on the ballot.
It simply allows more people to have a say in the future of their city, he said. It is the fair thing to do.