Ballot initiative downzoning a land parcel

by Peter
(Aurora, CO)

Visitor Question: A ballot initiative by the citizens of Aurora, CO down zoned a 10 acre parcel of land some years ago, and now a developer wants to rezone the parcel. Does he have to notify the citizens of Aurora or just the residents adjacent to the property?

Editors Reply: In most jurisdictions in the U.S., there are two ways that a land use rezoning process begins. Either the municipality or county initiates the process, or the property owner or owners do so.

In this case, the jurisdiction started the rezoning process, through allowing and then accepting an initiative petition.

Unless there are specific facts to the contrary, it now is the right of the current property owner to initiate a rezoning petition, and that is what has happened in this case.

For the benefit of all readers, just because a rezoning is requested, that does not mean at all that it is a pretty much automatic process. It is a deliberative, legislative process of deciding whether or not to rezone property.

Now when we spoke about specific facts to the contrary, we were thinking that there may have been some language provisions in the initiative, or in the ordinance certifying the initiative, that would mean that expanded notice would be required to reverse the action. In this case, it is possible that the initiative said that the only way this could be reversed would be by holding another vote. We think all of that is somewhat unlikely, but it's possible.

The initiative also might have prohibited any further rezoning for a specific number of years, or unless specific fact situations occurred.

Without knowing more of the important background information, we have this specific advice for you:

1. Obtain the exact language of the petition that was filed in support of the downzoning initiative, the exact ballot language, and the complete ordinance or resolution that authorized holding the initiative election.

If all of these are silent on the issue you raise about notice to all citizens, we suspect that under Colorado and local law, Aurora will only feel obligated to notify the nearby property owners within a specific number of feet of the property in question, in the same way and to the same extent that would be true of any rezoning.

You also could talk with a Colorado attorney or browse through the Colorado enabling legislation for zoning yourself to see if there is any reason to think otherwise.

2. If you do have reason to think that broad notice of any proposed reversal of the initiative is required, be sure to call this to the attention of those who need to understand that. This could include your city council, planning commission, city attorney, planning director and staff, and city manager if any. Send letters or e-mails, or call them.

Some of these folks may be well aware of the specific situation, but it's good that they realize a citizen is watching.

3. If you discover no specific requirement that a reversal of the downzoning requires an unusually expansive notification, get together with a few like-minded individuals or neighbors, and make plenty of noise about the situation.

If your city council has an open mike time during their regular meeting, as most do, line up a couple of speakers there long before the rezoning has even reached them for action.

We say that for a couple of reasons: (1) usually a city council meeting receives more press coverage than a planning commission meeting, (2) you can call this specific matter to the attention of the city council before they receive any paperwork on it, so that they can start thinking about the fairness of undoing what was done under a ballot initiative, and (3) you can at that time request that the city council notify everyone in town.

If your city runs any of your utilities, utility bill notification may be possible without the expense and staff burden of a separate mailer to each household. You want to make it seem reasonable to them to notify everyone.

If the city refuses, take the case to traditional and social media to make sure that most interested citizens will hear about the matter, regardless of whether they have an official letter from the city or not.

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