Referendum petition denied by city


Neighboring residents of the contentious Northwood mixed-use residential development aren’t going down without a fight, but an attempt to get a referendum on the November ballot has been denied by the City of Delaware, leaving them with limited options moving forward.

On April 22, Delaware City Council approved a preliminary development plan as well as a rezoning amendment request by Metro Development for the construction of a mixed-residential development including up to 1,168 dwelling units spread across three subareas on the approximately 231-acre site located on the northwest corner of the state Route 521 and Byxbe Parkway roundabout.

Prior to the council’s approval, the land was zoned A-1 (Agricultural District), and a conditional use permit was approved to place a Planned Mixed-Use overlay district on the property as part of the rezoning to A-1 PMU (Agricultural District with a Planned Mixed Use Overlay District).

During a meeting on Tuesday, a petition for referendum was presented to the city by Gary Dota, a resident of the Kensington Place neighborhood directly west of the approved Northwood development and organizer of the petition efforts. The petition aimed to allow residents to vote on the rezoning of the land to add the PMU as part of the upcoming election.

However, at the advice of City Attorney Natalia Harris, City Council Clerk Sarah Dinovo declined to look at the petition and would not accept it as a submission. Dota told The Gazette the only reason he was given for the city’s refusal to review or accept the submission was that it did not meet the requirements for a petition for referendum as detailed in the Delaware City Charter.

According to Dota, when pressed for additional feedback on which part of the charter the petition did not satisfy, the city declined to specify. At The Gazette’s request, a city spokesperson said of the decision, “The material was not accepted on the advice of legal counsel. It was determined that the City Charter prohibited its acceptance.”

Asked if the city would expand on why the petition was deemed insufficient per the City Charter, the spokesperson said only, “Not at this time.”

Per Section 731.29 of the Ohio Revised Code, a petition for referendum must be signed by 10% of the number of electors who voted for governor at the most recent general election for the office of governor in the municipal corporation. In addition to getting the signatures, the petition must be filed with the city auditor or village clerk within 30 days after any ordinance or other measure is filed with the mayor or passed by the legislative authority of a village.

Dota’s petition contained 1,827 signatures, which he believes well exceeds the requisite number, and the filing date falls within the 30-day window from the time the ordinance was approved and signed into effect.

Despite the city’s refusal to acknowledge the petition, Dota said he still delivered the petition to the Delaware County Board of Elections on Tuesday to have “certified acknowledgment” that the petition was submitted.

Dota first met with the city on April 23, the day following the passing of the ordinance, to relay the residents’ intent to file a petition for referendum, a process both sides signed off on. Dota said the residents were never led to believe at that time, or any time leading up to the submission of the petition, that there were any issues with how the referendum falls within the city’s charter.

“They let us go collect 1,827 signatures and then tell us when we show up,” Dota said. “It made my blood boil and made me think, ‘Why would somebody do that?’ Unless they have one hell of a reason, they’re just aggravating the citizens of their city even more … They had no intentions of ever accepting the referendum, and they evidently think they have something in the charter that they have a leg to stand on with. If we intend to, at some point, retain counsel, we have to come up with the money to do that.”

He added, “I’ve been in sales and management for a long time and I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone shock me like that. When you think you’ve done everything in the process, and somebody signs off on something from day one, and then on the last day decides they won’t accept it or even touch it, it was a real shocker.”

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on X @DillonDavis56.

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