Olentangy Valley News

Powell City Council to petitioners: Be patient with us

City leaders say research required before approval of ballot measures; delay won't keep issues from voters

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Powell officials said last week they needed more time before they could vote on the validity of petitions aimed at blocking the development of an apartment complex near the city's downtown.

A group of residents submitted petitions to the city in July proposing two initiatives and one referendum for the November ballot. The referendum and one of the initiatives are aimed at blocking the development of the Center at Powell Crossing, a 64-unit apartment and retail complex planned just west of the CSX railroad tracks on West Olentangy Street.

The second initiative would create a new charter amendment that puts residents in charge of revising the city's comprehensive plan and could possibly bar future apartment developments in downtown Powell.

Powell City Council was tasked with determining the "sufficiency and validity" of the petitions at its Aug. 5 meeting. Under the city's charter, initiatives and referendums must be supported by petitions with valid signatures representing at least 10 percent of the city's voters in the last regular municipal election.

Although the Delaware County Board of Elections ruled Aug. 1 that the group easily had surpassed the threshold of 238 viable signatures for each of the petitions, council held off on its decision.

Powell Law Director Gene Hollins said city and board of elections officials discussed whether delaying council's vote on the petitions would in any way keep the issues from the ballot.

They determined it would not, if council voted on the issues at its next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 19.

"We're not going to put (the petitioners) in a position, after going through all this work, to miss the November election," Hollins said.

He said the delay would give council members time to read legal documents submitted by both the residents group and the developer.

He said postponing the votes also would give council and staff more time to research the possible legal complications regarding the process.

Council voted unanimously to table the resolutions determining the validity of the initiative and referendum that would block the development of the Center at Powell Crossing.

An ordinance regarding the comprehensive plan initiative was taken to a second reading.

Council's decision not to vote on the validity of the petitions was met with skepticism by residents who favor putting the measures on the ballot.

Group spokesman Tom Happensack said the city's charter required council to act immediately.

"Any delays in your votes puts the citizens, the petitioners, at risk of running out of time," he said. "That's patently unfair to us."

Councilman Tom Counts, who voted in favor of the Center at Powell Crossing's final development plan in June, said it would be irresponsible of council to vote without conducting appropriate research on related legal issues.

"I think we owe it to the city, we owe it to ourselves, to do the kind of understanding of the issues involved to really handle the matter," he said.

Councilman Jon Bennehoof, who voted against the complex's development plan, said he agreed that more time was needed before council voted.

"I beg of you to have the patience for us to do an appropriate review and make sure that we're doing the things that are legal," he said.

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