Ask Damascus collects enough signatures for growth initiative

A group of Damascus residents has collected enough signatures to place an initiative before voters that, if approved, would require voter approval for a local comprehensive plan outlining future growth.

Ask Damascus volunteers turned in 423 signatures - 123 more than the 300 required - at Damascus City Hall on Monday, Oct. 31.

Chief petitioners began gathering signatures on Sept. 11, also called Patriot's Day, to put the initiative on the ballot in March. This prompted one Damascus city councilor to call the group unpatriotic. Given the timing of the signatures being turned in on Halloween, one of the chief petitioners Dan Phegley quipped, 'I'm not sure what member of the council will call us now.'

In a press release, Ask Damascus said the initiative is intended to show the council that citizens intend to have a say in the management of their own homes and city.

The initiative calls for amending the Damascus City Charter to add a new section entitled 'Additional Powers Retained by Citizens.' It would prevent the Damascus City Council from submitting any ordinance or plan affecting property rights to the Metro Regional Government, the Land Conservation and Development Commission and the state Department of Land Conservation and Development or their successors until the ordinance or plan is OK'd by the citizens.

It also requires the council to provide a summary of the plan or ordinance's 'key material provisions,' as well as its economic impact, including what it would cost residents and property owners in Damascus for the ballot.

Damascus voters in May - by a 2-1 margin - rejected an ordinance already OK'd by city councilors, reversing the City Council's effort to adopt a comprehensive plan for how the area should grow.

Estimates on the cost of the comprehensive plan approved by city councilors, but rejected by residents, topped $3 billion and didn't specify whether that was the cost of merely creating the plan or implementing it, Phegley said.

Damascus city councilors passed the comprehensive plan nearly a year ago after 16 public meetings before the planning commission and City Council. Under state law, every city must have a comprehensive plan outlining future growth. Controlling how the rural, pastoral area grows and is developed was a cornerstone of the 2004 vote to incorporate Damascus as an official city.

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