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Sioux Falls zoning changes going to public vote

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- Opponents of changes to zoning laws in South Dakota's largest city have submitted enough petition signatures to force a public vote.

The opposition group in Sioux Falls needed 5,120 valid signatures and submitted more than 6,500 in late April. City Clerk Lorie Hogstad said Monday that more than 5,300 signatures had been verified. The City Council can put the measure on the April 8, 2014, regular city election ballot or schedule a special election, the Argus Leader newspaper reported.

The zoning laws were passed by the City Council in March and were to go into effect in mid-April. That was delayed when residents concerned about a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter in the city worked to gather signatures. Because of the forced election on the issue, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. must now start over the approval process for its new store under the old zoning ordinance.

"It was a major, major accomplishment for a group of concerned citizens to pull off in not very much time," group member Sarah Sibert said of the two-week petition drive that often was conducted in the midst of stormy weather. "We're very proud of ourselves and have a lot of positive momentum."

The changes to the city's 30-year-old zoning laws were aimed at streamlining the project approval process for developers. Opponents say the changes would ease requirements for developers and give the public less of a say in what can be built.

"This citywide vote will allow citizens to really examine, page by page, what changes, and how that potentially impacts the future," Sibert said.

The council did not immediately decide when to hold the vote. The cost of a special election concerns City Councilman Kermit Staggers.

"We're going to have an election either way in April 2014, so instead of spending the money for a special election, let's just have it then," he said.