City misbehaving with Burlingame development
I feel compelled to write this letter to keep you, the citizens of Aspen appraised of the situation surrounding the proposed Burlingame Village. It is true we are neighbors of the project. In fact, because the location of the proposed Burlingame Village is so remote, we (the Soldners) are the only ones aside from city and county officials who really know what is actually happening out here.During the past several weeks, the city has been opening up Stage Road and laying pipe for the infrastructure. Two weeks ago they began using the Zoline pasture for storage and staging without a permit. I am not sure if this was because of ignorance, incompetence or, as I fear, arrogance. They were informed numerous times by the Zolines’ ranch manager, as well as the county community development office, that they were in violation and needed a permit. They never bothered.Last week, the county had to issue an earth-moving permit to the city although there still have been no land-use approvals, no disclosures of what the proposed Burlingame Village will look like or cost, nor annexation of the county property. The city has begun ripping up both Deer Hill and the Zolines’ pasture and continues spending $2 million of your tax money.Most recently, the city has adopted a new and probably improper technique to obstruct, delay, complicate and increase the cost of our constitutional right to citizen initiatives. The new trick, first used against the parking garage initiative, is for the city to have someone file a protest to the initiative petition under a statutory procedure that allows the city clerk, who initially approved the form of the petition, to make sure an initiative petition was properly circulated and signed and filed, and similar technical issues. The new type of protest, however, is not based on any technical insufficiency in the collection of signatures, but is based on the assertion that the initiative petition is improper because it concerns a city “administrative” matter instead of a city “legislative” matter. The distinction between what is an administrative versus legislative matter is a subtle and complex question of law that is difficult for even the courts to define and sort out. It is clearly not the type of “protest” with which the city clerk’s protest hearing procedure was intended to deal. Now, in this new expanded type of protest hearing, in the city attorney’s opinion, the initiative involves an “administrative” matter and is therefore illegal. The hearing officer, appointed by the city, will rubber stamp his opinion and refuse to certify the petitions. The petitioners are then left with no alternative but to appeal that ruling to the district court, resulting in substantial delays and significant costs. This new tactic by the city, for all practical purposes, will effectively stop the ability of citizens to exercise their constitutional rights to initiate new ordinances by petition.A group of citizens had prepared and were intending to circulate two initiative petitions. However, it has become obvious the city was going to ensnare those petitions in the same delays and limbo that it used to defeat the parking garage initiative. Subsequently, we thought we would at least be able to rely on our right to have a referendum of the ordinance that proposes to annex the Zoline land and the part of our land that the city negotiated away from us, scheduled for Sept. 13.Now we have found out that the city intends to divide this procedure into several parts, making it even more difficult for citizens to mount a challenge to their dishonest and irresponsible behavior. The Sept. 13 ordinance will only address annexing our land (the Soldners) and not the Zoline land and their negotiated agreements. If passed, the city will then continue to move forward with construction of the road accessing the proposed Burlingame Village. How can we possibly allow development of this magnitude and impact on our community to be built without a comprehensive plan and clear budget? This is like saying to your contractor, “Go ahead and start building my home. I have no idea how big it will be or what it will look like, or how it will impact my neighborhood, but just get started. Oh, and by the way, don’t worry about how much it will cost, my neighbors will pay for it.”The Aspen Area Community Plan has a goal to house 60 percent of its employees in 20 years. No one, not even the city business office, knows or can figure out, accurately, how many employees Aspen has. What is 60 percent of an unknown? Eight years ago, when the city of Aspen began trying to put affordable housing out on Deer Hill, the affordable housing program was in its infancy. As of July 2004, according to the city of Aspen and the Pitkin County Affordable Housing Authority, 2,428 affordable housing units now exist excluding the Obermeyer development. The city of Aspen now controls 1,835 affordable housing units, and the county controls 593 units. Of these, 1,324 are ownership and 1,104 are rental units.The quality of life that we enjoy in Aspen is about to end. It is simply becoming more and more clear that the city will not be able to both subsidize its huge affordable housing stock and continue to subsidize all of the services and amenities its citizens expect and demand. We are fast approaching a tipping point toward disaster.Three members of Aspen City Council, the Housing Authority and the city attorney’s office have encouraged and allowed these and other questionable tactics. I do not believe the citizens of Aspen will be deterred from demanding accountability. We have not given up hope but are seeking funding and other citizens who would like to join the fight to take back their community. Stephanie Soldner can be reached at email@example.com
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