City and county settle dispute
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A dispute that had strained relations between Aspen and Pitkin County and threatened to halt the Aspen Youth Center’s move to new digs was resolved Wednesday.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to turn over a disputed chunk of land to the city, though a couple of them were clearly pained by the decision.
“I believe we just gave away a several-million-dollar asset,” said Commissioner Shellie Roy, who cast the sole vote against the property transfer.
“We deeply appreciate what you just did,” said Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud. “I know it was difficult.”
The move is likely to improve soured relations between the city and county, at least from the city’s perspective.
“I will guarantee you, I think it will resolve any rift there has been between the city and the county,” Klanderud said after the meeting.
She apologized to commissioners for flaring tempers on the city’s side over the issue. “The city has gotten frustrated in the last couple of months,” Klanderud said.
The existing youth center on Rio Grande Place straddles a city/county property line, but the city has long contended that the county was supposed to give its property beneath the building to the city as part of a complex series of land deals dating back a decade.
The long and winding paper trail, however, didn’t lead some commissioners to that conclusion. The agreement that apparently spells out the transfer was never signed by county officials, though Commissioner Mick Ireland believes the county agreed verbally to the deal.
He urged commissioners to live up to the prior commitment.
“I am bound by agreements I make, even when I don’t sign a piece of paper,” Ireland said. “I think it is incumbent upon this board to live up to agreements it makes, not duck them because they didn’t get them put down in writing.”
But some of his fellow commissioners weren’t anxious to hand over a county asset according to the terms of an unsigned agreement made by their predecessors.
“In my opinion, I don’t feel there’s a previous agreement – signed – that mandates the conveyance of this property,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper.
“I don’t know how we can work this out, but I don’t think, honest to God, there’s an agreement to convey this land,” Roy agreed.
“Signed agreements are the only things that really stand up,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield, though he ultimately sided with the majority.
The unfinished land deal became a pressing matter for the city when it began construction of a new youth center in the recreation complex at Iselin Park. The city is providing the center with a $1.5 million space in the new building in exchange for the existing youth center, but that arrangement hinged on the city acquiring the county-owned piece of land beneath the center.
The city is eyeing potential municipal uses for the building once the youth center moves out. Commissioners are hoping to secure some much-needed space for the county there, too. The city has been unwilling to guarantee the county any use of the building, though that option has not been ruled out.
Clapper asked Klanderud if the city was willing to pay the county for the property and if the city would allow the youth center to move without the transfer. “No” was the mayor’s answer to both questions.
With that, Clapper, too, voted to follow through with the transfer, noting, tearfully, “It’s a very difficult decision for me.”
The vote directed county staffers to prepare an ordinance that will convey the property. The ordinance will still require formal approval.
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