Aspen council tables Given discussion
September 20, 2010
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council has continued indefinitely a decision on whether to implement an emergency order that would rezone the Given Institute property so that it can only be used for academic purposes, instead of residential ones.
Council had been scheduled to take up the issue, and possibly rule on it, Monday. Officials don’t know when the measure will again come before the council, city of Aspen spokeswoman Sally Spaulding said.
The legislation passed its first reading two weeks ago by three councilmen.
It will have to be approved by at least four of the five City Council members.
Councilmen Derek Johnson and Steve Skadron and Mayor Mick Ireland voted in favor of the order, passing it to a second reading.
Normally, emergency legislation is only allowed for promotion of the public safety, peace or health, per the city charter. Jim True, who serves as the city’s special legal counsel, said Aspen emergency legislation is rarely used.
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If it passes, it will go into effect within 24 hours; 30 days is the norm.
The move was spurred by an announcement by the property’s owner, the University of Colorado’s medical school, that it wanted to sell the Given. The university says it can no longer afford its operating costs.
The university’s budget is in dire shape because of dwindling state funding for higher education.
“As we discussed, our state budget situation is critical – so critical that we can no longer afford the $200,000 annual subsidy that keeps the Given Institute open,” said Richard Krugman, the school’s dean, in an e-mail to Ireland in 2009.
CU uses the facility to host medical seminars.
The property could be significantly devalued if the legislation passes because potential buyers have expressed interest in demolishing the building and using the site for a single-family home.
Ireland said the measure, if passed, would give the city leverage in negotiations with the university. The City Council met twice last week in executive session to discuss the negotiations.
City officials have since been trying to partner with local arts entities that might be able to front some of the funds needed to buy the building in exchange for being able to use it.
The City Council voted against putting a related question on the Nov. 2 ballot. It would have asked voters if they wanted to buy the Given for $15 million. Council members said the price was too high.
That figure was down $2 million from the amount the original buyer had offered for the Given, university officials said.
City Attorney John Worcester, in e-mail conversations late last month with university officials regarding a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and the university, wrote of the possibility of voters killing the ballot measure.
“My personal opinion is that council was concerned that the ballot question had little chance of passing in November so the MOU was really a giveaway,” Worcester wrote.
The council killed the MOU.
Aspen philanthropist Elizabeth Paepcke allocated the Given Institute property to CU’s medical school, to be used for educational seminars, nearly four decades ago.