Aspen Ballot Questions: Voters choose original city office plan at Rio Grande/Galena Plaza
In a 57 to 43 percent margin, Aspen voters have chosen Rio Grande Place and Galena Plaza for a new municipal office building to be developed by the city, according to unofficial election results.
Question 2D presented two locations for city office space. As of 1 a.m. Wednesday, 2,040 voters chose Option B, which is a new building to be constructed at 427 and 455 Rio Grande Place.
As of early Wednesday morning, Option A had garnered 1,552 votes and included yet-to-be developed office space in a commercial building on Hopkins Avenue, as well as second-floor space next door where the Aspen Kitchen restaurant is located.
But the majority of voters ultimately went with what was originally approved by Aspen City Council over a year ago. The roughly 37,500-square-foot office building was approved by ordinance in the spring of 2017. The Rio Grande/Galena Plaza project is currently estimated to cost $26 million to build.
“I feel relieved for knowing our representative government worked,” said Mayor Steve Skadron. “I just think Option B is a 50-year plan that will provide public services that will stand the test of time.”
The city’s project has been the source of a protracted legal battle between three residents and the government since City Council passed Ordinance 4.
City residents Steve Goldenberg and Marcia Goshorn, assisted by Snowmass Canyon resident Toni Kronberg, sued the government after they were denied an attempt to put the development to the voters via referendum.
Frustrated and concerned about the project languishing and construction costs escalating as litigation wore on, council looked for other alternatives.
Enter developer Mark Hunt, who offered to sell 27,000 square feet of turnkey office space at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. and 204 S. Galena St., across from City Hall. The total price tag is $32.5 million, which is between $5.5 million to $7.5 million higher than what two outside appraisers have valued the space for.
The city is under contract to buy those spaces, along with a deal for Hunt’s development team to remodel the old Armory (now City Hall) for $15.8 million.
In September, council agreed to a settlement agreement with Goshorn and Goldenberg and let voters decide which deal to take.
Tuesday’s vote is only advisory, but the terms of the settlement make the election results binding. With Tuesday’s vote tally, the lawsuit will now be dismissed with prejudice.
Kronberg declined to comment, other than to say, “I’m glad it’s an advisory vote, according to the city’s statement of fact.”
If the majority of voters had supported the city buying Hunt’s properties, the city would have rescinded Ordinance 4.
Goshorn, Goldenberg and Kronberg agreed to the settlement because the matter is going before voters, which is what they wanted in the first place.
This is not the first ballot measure introduced by the city. In 2015, it asked an advisory question if the current City Hall, known historically as the Armory, should be converted to community use instead of offices.
The advisory question narrowly passed in favor of the conversion but council has no plans to change City Hall, other than to remodel it.
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.