With less than a week before a deadline to submit signatures to potentially force a vote of the people, the spokeswoman for a group of Longmont residents hoping to halt a megachurch-sponsored annexation says she is unsure how many John Hancocks they’ve collected so far.
Jen Gartner of the group What’s in it for Longmont? reports that she is “hopeful” that some 35 circulators will collect the 4,021 signatures needed. But the effort has not been exactly trouble-free. Petition circulators have been yelled at and menaced; one person even threatened Gartner’s dog, she said.
“We’ve had a number of problems, especially as this wraps up,” Gartner said. “I’ve told everyone to be polite, don’t engage – if people don’t want to sign [the petitions] then that’s fine.”
“We’ve had situations where uncivil exchanges have occurred – one person threatened to nail my dog to a wall.”
Among the criticisms hurled at signature gatherers: that they don’t understand the good work that LifeBridge Christian Church, which is pushing the annexation, does. “I just tell them that I have nothing against the church,” Gartner says, “my concern is with their development arm.”
Others have been more supportive of the efforts to halt the annexation, said Gartner, who said she has not reported any of the threats to police.
“Supporters have been thanking me for actually taking a stand,” she said. “There’s been a groundswell of support from a lot of people who don’t care about this precise issue, but there’s a feeling in Longmont that the City Council doesn’t really listen to people.”
On a 6-1 vote, the Longmont City Council approved the plan last month, to allow LifeBridge Christian Church and its nonprofit development arm, Corporation for Community Christian Connections, to annex 348 acres to the city of Longmont. The church plans to build 700 homes, a 160,000-square foot fitness center and commercial retail space on the land, which is near Union Reservoir, three miles east of the existing city.
At the council meeting, Gartner’s group delivered a petition, signed by 880 Longmont residents, opposing the plan. Specifically they were concerned over what they said were unanswered questions about environmental impacts, traffic and the costs to existing residents to pay for the development’s infrastructure. (LifeBridge’s nonprofit status exempts the church from having to pay property tax, and it is unclear how that would apply to the residential, commercial and other projects that are planned with the development.)
The What’s in it for Longmont? group has until next Wednesday, Sept. 26 to submit their petitions to the city clerk. Gartner said that petition circulators plan to host a final drive for signatures this Sunday, Sept. 23 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Thompson Park in downtown Longmont.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org