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Council approves Big Box election

Registered voters in the town of Pagosa Springs will be given the chance to vote on whether the town should retain Big Box regulations that were put in place in 2006.

With a unanimous vote on Tuesday by the Pagosa Springs Town Council, on a second reading of an ordinance to approve a referendum, town voters will decide April 6 if a previous ordinance (743) that scrapped a section of the Land Use and Development Code (restricting Big Box development) should stand.

Ordinance 743 removed section 2.4.5 of the LUDC, regulations that limited so-called large format retail, or Big Box development, within town limits. Passed by council last summer, the ordinance was written in response to local economic conditions and the belief that section 2.4.5 was discouraging developers from looking at Pagosa Springs as a potential location for large format retail development.

The matter of a referendum began in October when local residents Matt Roane, Ann Bubb and Jaime and Mat deGraaf filed a lawsuit against the town in an attempt to force a referendum. In early November, the town and its attorney, Bob Cole, agreed to settle with the plaintiffs, allowing the petition process to move forward. On Nov. 30, Cole and the plaintiffs settled the lawsuit. 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.

Following settlement of the lawsuit, Roane, Bubb and the deGraafs circulated petitions in December collecting sufficient numbers of signatures to meet requirements (10 percent of the town’s registered voters) for holding the referendum. Town Clerk April Hessman certified those signatures in late December and presented Ordinance 749 (calling for the referendum) at the Jan. 5 town council meeting.

If the voters decide to overturn Ordinance 743, section 2.4.5 will remain in the LUDC and council will not be able to revise that portion of the code for two years.

Currently, as a condition of the lawsuit’s settlement and with the second reading of Ordinance 749 and its approval, Ordinance 743 is in abeyance — section 2.4.5 remains in the LUDC until the election. If the voters agree with council’s decision from last summer, Ordinance 743 will be reinstated and section 2.4.5 will be removed from the LUDC, providing potential Big Box developers with less restrictive regulations.

The April election will also see three district council seats up for grabs, as well as the mayor’s seat. In District 1, council member Mark Weiler’s seat will be up for election; Weiler was appointed to the seat in March 2008 after council member John Middendorf resigned. Council member Don Volger, representing District 2, took his seat last January after Angela Atkinson resigned her seat on the council. Darrell Cotton’s seat for District 3 is open as well; Cotton has served his district since the 1980s.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Ross Aragon announced he will seek a ninth term as Pagosa Springs mayor. Aragon has been the mayor of Pagosa Springs since 1978 and has the distinction of being one of the longest serving mayors in the nation.

Town residents interested in running for either the mayor’s seat or one of the town council’s district seats can pick up election packets at Town Hall starting Feb. 12 and can begin collecting signatures for their petition on Feb. 15. Petitions and packets are due March 5.

Petitions for the mayor’s seat require the signatures of 25 registered town voters. District seat petitions require signatures of 25 town residents who reside in the district — likewise, candidates for a specific district seat must also reside in that district.

Lists of registered voters in the town of Pagosa Springs — and voters registered in specific districts —are available at the Archuleta County Clerk’s office. There is a $25 set-up fee for the lists, as well as a $.01 charge per name.

jim@pagosasun.com