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Here we go again, comp plans back on ballot?

City Council sends mayor's plan to November election Petition drive considered to place '2013 plan' on same ballot


All three comprehensive development plans for the city of Damascus failed at the polls on May 20, but voters in this town will have another chance to accept or reject Mayor Steve Spinnett’s plan when it appears on the November ballot.

Whether it will be the only plan on the ballot remains to be seen.

Damascus recently was sanctioned by the state for not submitting a comprehensive land-use plan since it was incorporated in 2004. The sanctions included heavy fines and legislation to allow people to de-annex and leave the city. Residents have been vocal at recent City Council meetings about their displeasure with the council for suing citizens who want to de-annex and for not adopting the 2013 comp plan.

The 2013 plan was developed with intensive citizen input and many public meetings. Mayor Spinnett and the council rejected that plan, and Spinnett formed his own plan that favors property rights.

Council President Andrew Jackman also developed his own plan that leans more toward environmental protections.

The City Council placed both Spinnett’s and Jackman’s plans on the May primary ballot. The original 2013 plan got on the ballot because of a voter petition initiative.

Prior to the May election, the council voted to put the plan with the most votes on the November ballot. The original 2013 plan got the most votes, but since it was not approved by the council, it will not be placed on the November ballot. The mayor’s plan received 987 yes votes, Jackman’s plan got 315 votes and the 2013 plan received 1,007 yes votes.

Councilor Jim De Young, who has pushed for passage of the original 2013 plan, said he might start another petition drive to get it on the ballot again, but he hasn’t made up his mind. He’s hoping the mayor may compromise and make some changes to his plan, but Spinnett says he won’t do that. De Young said he hopes the City Council will allow later adjustments to the plan after the election, assuming voters approve it. But if there is no compromise, he will go to the voters again for a petition drive.

“We are contemplating that but have not yet made a decision,” he said. “It depends on just what the mayor plans to do.”

One big difference between the mayor’s plan and the original plan is minimum acreage for residential development. The original plan called for a minimum 10-acre property parcel for development, while the mayor’s plan would allow development on just one acre.

Richard Johnson of the group Move Damascus Forward said the mayor has his own interests at heart and wants to develop his own 11 acres for his own profit.

“The mayor’s plan gutted the protection for streams and creeks and water flow and allows for a lot more densely populated construction in Damascus,” he said. “It’s always been about his property, and he absolutely denies that.”

Spinnett said his plan “strikes a balance… using minimum regional and state standards” for environmental protections.

Spinnett said most people aren’t that worried about the environment.

“It’s pretty obvious people are not interested in excessive environmental restrictions,” he said.