After nearly five years of fighting city hall, Plano citizens finally got what they lawfully petitioned for: a vote on the city’s controversial comprehensive development plan.
On Wednesday, Plano City Council voted unanimously to repeal the Plano Tomorrow comprehensive plan and reinstate the city’s prior development plan.
The repeal and replace votes came after City Secretary Lisa Henderson met Wednesday’s court-ordered deadline to present city council with a referendum petition—filed by citizens in November 2015—that called for council to either repeal the Plano Tomorrow Plan or put it to a public vote. Over 4,000 Plano citizens signed the petition.
“Better late than never,” said Beth Carruth, one of five plaintiffs who sued the city on behalf of petition signers when Henderson refused to submit their petition to city council. Henderson and City Attorney Paige Mims claimed comprehensive plans are not subject to referendum.
The Plano Tomorrow Plan was adopted in October 2015 amid controversy over land-use provisions that critics said encouraged too much urban-style, high-density development.
That plan stayed in effect as the city—led by Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, former City Manager Bruce Glasscock, and several pro-developer council members who are no longer in office—spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on outside lawyers and legal costs to fight the citizens’ petition and block a vote on the plan.
One of the city’s outside attorneys, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson, argued that comprehensive plans are too complex to be “relegated to a simple up-or-down vote of citizens.” The anti-taxpayer Texas Municipal League also got in on the act, filing an amicus brief supporting the city’s argument that comprehensive plans are not subject to referendum. All were proven wrong.
“What is more appropriate for a general vote of the public than what your city should be like 20 or 30 years from now?” asked Jack Ternan, the attorney representing the citizens.
After years of costly legal battles that went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, the 5th Court of Appeals issued a ruling last month that finally spelled victory for the citizens—requiring the city secretary to present the referendum petition to Plano City Council by August 5 and to pay plaintiffs’ legal costs.
In an emergency meeting Sunday, council members officially ended the city’s losing legal battle against their own citizens and voted to move forward Wednesday with the referendum petition as required by the city charter and ordered by the court.
“After almost five years and more than half a million dollars fighting, the people have won!” said Plano resident Debbie Bonenberger after Wednesday’s vote.
The win extends well beyond Plano. The appellate court’s ruling also upheld the right of all Texans to petition for a referendum vote on comprehensive plans—a power Plano city officials sought to deny local citizens.
“This issue is important for all Texas, as it defines the rights of citizens to have a say in structuring the blueprint for the growth of their city,” said Sandy Dixon, a Plano resident who actively supported the petitioners. “The courts have confirmed that the secretary never had the right to withhold presentation of the petitions.”
While the reinstated plan serves as a temporary placeholder, a 16-member citizen Comprehensive Plan Review Committee is already working on an improved development plan that a majority of residents can embrace, dubbed “Plano United.”
“Thank you, council, for your show of unity,” review committee chairman Doug Shockey posted following the votes to repeal and replace Plano Tomorrow. “The CPRC is dedicated to working towards changes that will benefit all of Plano’s citizens and institutions.”
The committee is expected to report its recommendations to the Planning and Zoning Commission later this year.