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Burlingame question to provide answers?

Question No. 1 on Aspen’s May 3 ballot polls voters on an annexation issue, but it’s better known as the Burlingame question.It was hoped the ballot results would determine the fate of the controversial worker housing project slated for a piece of the land proposed to be annexed. But the future is muddied by a second referendum that may or may not force yet another vote.The May ballot question, titled City of Aspen Referendum – Annexation, reads: “Shall Ordinance No. 39, Series of 2004, be approved? Ordinance 39 annexed the Bar/X Ranch into the boundaries of the City of Aspen. The Bar/X Ranch is comprised of approximately 145 acres and is adjacent to the Maroon Creek Club and the city-owned Burlingame Ranch.”The City Council has already adopted Ordinance 39, approving the annexation, but ultimately decided to put the measure before voters. The results of the election are binding, as in, the city is bound by them. A similarly worded referendum on the annexation, put forward through a citizen referendum petition, could conceivably force yet another vote on the same issue sometime this summer. The council agreed to put the matter on the ballot after the petition was submitted, essentially asking the question that petition backers wanted asked, but the petition is still out there. It’s validity, however, faces a protest from a local citizen.If voters approve Ordinance 39, the city hopes construction of the Burlingame housing will start this year. If it fails at the polls, the future is less clear.”If it passes, I assume it’s full-speed ahead. If it doesn’t pass, I don’t know,” summed up John Worcester, city attorney.If it passes…While the May 3 election may bring new faces to the City Council, most candidates opposed to Burlingame have indicated they won’t fight the housing project if Question 1 is approved by voters.In a nutshell, the proposed Burlingame Ranch worker housing project may include up to 236 residences, to be built over three phases. Only the first phase – 86 units and 11 lots (97 homes altogether) – is in the final design stage. The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the final plans for the first phase tonight.If it doesn’t pass…If Question 1 is defeated, what happens next is a matter of speculation. What is certain is the preannexation agreement between the city and the Zoline family, owners of the Bar/X Ranch, would be voided, according to Worcester.That deal put forth 21.5 acres of the Bar/X for the city’s housing project and outlined a development on the ranch that includes 12 free-market homes.The Zolines and their attorney have indicated the family expects to be reimbursed by the city for planning and legal expenses to date if the deal falls through.Without the annexation, the Bar/X Ranch would remain in unincorporated Pitkin County, where the family would pursue a new development plan, according to John Lifton, family spokesman.Much of the ranch is zoned for a house on every two acres, including the 21.5 acres that is currently part of the worker housing site. The ultimate density the county would approve at the Bar/X – and the worker housing or cash in lieu of housing that it would require – would have to be worked out through the county’s development review process.For the city, a “no” vote doesn’t necessarily mean no housing, but it means the current plan for Burlingame can’t go forward.”Obviously, if this doesn’t pass, then we’re back to the drawing board,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “I clearly think it would be one of the first things the council would discuss – what do we do now?”Klanderud, meanwhile, is up for re-election, and there’s no guarantee she will be part of the future council discussion that she predicts would take place.While the bulk of the site for the planned worker housing consists of the 21.5-acre chunk of the Bar/X, about five acres is on the city’s Burlingame Ranch property, which it purchased back in 1996. The housing site as it’s currently drawn also extends onto four acres of an adjacent parcel the city acquired from the Aspen Valley Land Trust in 2003. It obtained the land to avoid building housing in the back bowl of Deer Hill.The bowl, part of Burlingame Ranch, provides a flat, buildable area but some citizens have decried its use for housing, citing its importance to wildlife.”I don’t know if there’s any political will to build in the back bowl. I would not support that,” Klanderud said.Difficult to quantify is the total amount of money that has been spent – in staff time and dollars – in planning housing at Burlingame Ranch since the city acquired the parcel. But some of those expenditures would be for naught.Recent costs include $2.2 million for the final design of phase one as it’s currently envisioned and about $2 million for the extension of infrastructure to the site, including road construction that is already under way.Absentee voting, for residents who will not be in town on May 3, has begun in the city clerk’s office. Voters can cast their ballot early through April 29, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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