Awaiting the Entrance answer
July 23, 2009
About 800 Aspen registered voters may remember signing initiative petitions to place two alternatives for the Entrance to Aspen on the ballot. That was two summers ago, and it’s time for an update.
Both alternatives would straighten out the highway to eliminate the s-curves, add two additional lanes in the section which is still only two lanes wide, and open up the use of all lanes to general traffic subject to the same HOV restrictions between Basalt and Buttermilk.
A protest against the petitions was filed on the last day that state law allows, and a hearing officer appointed by the city sided with the protesters and ruled against sending the petitions to the voters for their approval. The hearing officer’s decision was appealed to the District Court, which upheld the findings of the hearing officer.
Both the hearing officer and the District Court agreed that the basic question being put to the voters – authorizing a change of use of property which the city had originally acquired for open space – is an appropriate subject for the initiative (petition) process. However, both authorities ruled against these specific petitions on the grounds that they contained too many details which would infringe upon the powers of city government.
One of many peculiarities of the case is that, under current law, either the hearing officer or the District Court could have removed the portions of the petitions they found objectionable, thereby clearing the way for a vote – and both authorities declined to take that step.
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All of the arguments of the petitioners, protesters, and the city of Aspen have now been filed with the Court of Appeals, and general ballpark estimates are that the higher court will probably reach a decision regarding the previous rulings in about 12 to 18 months.
We have strong reason to believe that the Court of Appeals will uphold the decision of the hearing officer and District Court that the question itself is a legal use of the initiative process. We also think there is a good possibility that the appellate court will allow the specific language of the petitions, because all of it is relevant and appropriate to defining what the voters will allow in exchange for their open space.
In the event that the Court of Appeals does not accept some of the specific conditions contained in the petitions, we have no reason to believe that they will be reluctant to exercise their power to strike those portions and send the edited proposals to the voters.
In other words, we expect that Aspen voters will have a sensible solution for the Entrance to Aspen available for their approval in the not too distant future.
The documents filed with the Court of Appeals add up to about 110 pages of thrilling legal discourse. For those of you who can’t resist such entertainment, go to entrancesolution.com and click on “Where’s the petition?”
Jeffrey Evans, Basalt
Curtis Vagneur , Aspen