A group of residents that fervently lobbied, and ultimately failed, to stop St. Paul leaders from approving a plan for the former Ford Plant site this fall recently took a new approach to prevent the city's vision from becoming a reality.

But Wednesday they once again hit a roadblock with the City Council.

The group, called Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul, wanted to put a referendum on the 2018 election ballot giving voters the chance to repeal the Ford site zoning plan, which provides a framework for development at the 122-acre property.

They said the plan would lead to traffic congestion, a lack of green space and development too dense to fit the character of the surrounding Highland Park neighborhood.

The City Council quashed that effort Wednesday.

The city attorney's office determined state law gives St. Paul municipal planning power that would pre-empt a referendum, and the council voted not to submit the question for the next ballot.

"It's our duty as the council to follow the law," and not put it on the ballot, said Council Member Chris Tolbert.

Council Member Jane Prince noted the zoning plan was the start of the redevelopment process and community members will be able to give more input later.

The group first ran into trouble when it took the referendum petition to Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky on Nov. 20.

To get a question on the ballot, the city's charter requires 8 percent of the total number of voters who turned out in the last election to sign the referendum petition.

The Ford site plan opponents were using 2013 voter turnout as their guideline. But by the time they handed the petitions to Mansky, this year's Nov. 7 election — where far more people turned out — had taken place. Mansky said they didn't meet the new threshold of 4,932 signatures.

"Clearly, we disagree with their interpretation of what the situation is," Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul member Charles Hathaway said Wednesday.

"From our perspective, this is just one more instance where the city, and the City Council, are dead set on their plan and are refusing to accept the community perspective on it."