As of Monday, Nov. 30, a lawsuit filed against the Town of Pagosa Springs, regarding a Town Council ordinance to rescind section 2.4.5 of the town’s Land Use and Development Code, was officially settled out of court.
With the lawsuit settled, plaintiffs in the complaint can now proceed with a petition for a referendum and, if the petition is completed and valid, would put the matter of Big Box regulations to the voters of Pagosa Springs.
In accordance with the terms of the agreement, complaints filed against the town, town council and the town clerk were dropped in their entirety on Dec. 2. Furthermore, per the agreement, Ordinance No. 743, which prompted the lawsuit, was suspended as of Dec. 4, requiring Big Box developers to satisfy guidelines spelled out in Section 2.4.5 of the LUDC.
It is now up to plaintiffs Matt Roane, Anne Bubb and Mat and Jaime DeGraaf to collect 83 signatures (10 percent of the town’s registered electorate) from registered town voters by Dec. 18, in order to force a referendum. In fact, petitioners have already begun the process of canvassing Pagosa Springs neighborhoods to gather signatures.
“In my conversations with people,” said petitioner Mat DeGraaf, “I remind them that their signature does not pigeonhole them as either ‘for’ or ‘against’ anything. Their signature represents their desire, as a resident of the town, to have a say in the direction Pagosa Springs should take in terms of development.”
“If in April it comes to pass that the people want unrestricted big box growth; that’s fine … at least it was the people who decided and not a few selected representatives.”
In previous conversations with SUN staff, plaintiffs had stated that their lawsuit had nothing to do with opposition to Big Box development, but more to do with presenting the issue of Big Box regulations to Pagosa Springs’ voters.
The lawsuit was filed in October by Roane, Bubb and the deGraafs due to the town’s attempt to block a petition for referendum. Attempting to repeal Town of Pagosa Springs Ordinance 743 (which redacted the section of the LUDC regulating Big Box development), the lawsuit alleged that town staff had not followed its own procedures regarding noticing ordinances, making language of the ordinance readily available to the public and failed to provide the plaintiffs adequate recourse for making the issue a matter for referendum.
Council passed the first reading of the ordinance at its July 23 meeting and the ordinance was published as a public notice in the July 30 edition of The SUN, stating that a full text of the ordinance would be available at the office of the Town Clerk. The second reading of Ordinance 743 — repealing Section 2.4.5 of the LUDC — was heard at the Aug. 20 council meeting and was passed. However, while the second reading of the ordinance was noticed in the Sept. 3 edition of The SUN, that notice did not include any language indicating that the full text of the ordinance would be available with the town clerk, in apparent violation of the town’s Home Rule Charter. Likewise, the plaintiffs said (in the complaint) that language of the ordinance was not made available to the public.
Section 3.9(a) of the Town’s Home Rule Charter states, “(T)he full text of the ordinance, including any amendments, shall be available for public inspection at the office of the Town Clerk,” and states that the publication of that ordinance (and notice of the availability of the full text of the ordinance) “shall be published at least ten (10) days prior to each council meeting at which it will be considered on second reading.”
During a Nov. 3 executive session, council sought the advice of Town Attorney Bob Cole regarding the lawsuit, leading to a decision to settle the suit out of court and allow the petition for referendum.
If the petition has sufficient signatures (and all signatures are certified by the town clerk), town council will be notified of the referendum at a Jan. 5 meeting.
“Whichever way this issue goes, I feel that, thanks to the process, everyone wins,” Mat DeGraaf said.