City remains divided on entrance | AspenTimes.com

City remains divided on entrance

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

After two hours of bickering and one shouting match, the Aspen City Council agreed Tuesday to nothing more than what was already presumed about the Entrance to Aspen – that taking up the subject of a recent petition should be the first step.

The ordinance proposed by the Citizens for a Small Town Entrance in their citizens’ initiative petition will go to the council for first reading on July 22. If it survives that vote – three members appear ready to vote it down – a second reading is scheduled on July 29.

The ordinance would repeal the council’s decision to convey to the state the right of way necessary for the entrance unless it is approved by city voters.

If the council rejects the ordinance, it must schedule a special election.

State restrictions, however, would prevent scheduling the vote within a certain period before or after the Aug. 6 primary, and before the Nov. 5 general election.

That leaves four possible Tuesdays – Sept. 10, 17, 24 and Oct. 1, Worcester noted.

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The various strategies that come into play if the council does or doesn’t adopt the ordinance took up much of the council’s time last night.

The council could adopt the measure, halting the property transfer, and then go ahead and convey the property, since the public vote has already occurred, contended Councilman Tom McCabe.

The 1996 vote to convey the open space for a two-lane parkway and light-rail corridor is still valid, he argued.

“What this ordinance is asking the City Council to do has already been done,” McCabe said. “The citizens have answered this question, unequivocally.”

“I think it’s fair to say they’re asking you to let voters decide again,” Worcester said.

“The vote of ’96 continues to stand,” he added. “Future councils would still have the authority to grant the easement.”

If the council adopts the proposed ordinance, it eliminates the need for a special election. The city could then put whatever question it likes regarding the transfer of the open space before the electorate at the regular November election, Worcester advised. Or, he added, the city doesn’t have to put any question regarding the entrance on the ballot.

“Maybe the most benign thing the council could do is pass this ordinance,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.

But McCabe and Councilman Tim Semrau made it clear they would not vote to halt the transfer of the open space, once the Colorado Department of Transportation has the paperwork in order, and risk funding for the $62 million entrance project.

The state’s new priority list of highway projects is likely to be approved before the November election, McCabe noted.

“To throw that away would be criminal,” he said.

“The risk involved by not conveying this easement is great,” Semrau agreed.

Even with the transfer, the state only has the ability to build two lanes of highway and a light-rail corridor linking the Maroon Creek Road roundabout to the upper end of Main Street, McCabe said, urging the council to convey the property to hold its place in the funding picture.

But McCabe’s reasoning drew the ire of Councilman Terry Paulson, and the shouting that ensued forced Mayor Helen Klanderud to call a break in the proceedings.

When the discussion resumed, Paulson argued the 1996 vote is no longer valid. Voters have since rejected rail funding and dedicated bus lanes as an interim transit solution, he said.

“For this council to ignore those two votes and hide behind the ’96 vote and say that’s what the community wants is misleading,” he said. “We’re not getting what we wanted in ’96.”

“Just because [Paulson’s] not getting everything he wants doesn’t mean the ’96 vote doesn’t count,” Councilman Tony Hershey countered. He, too, appeared willing to move forward with the property transfer.

The council could reject the ordinance and refuse to put the matter to voters, Hershey said, relying on Worcester’s opinion that an ordinance can’t be used to repeal the council resolution authorizing the transfer.

“The initiative ordinance as proposed is not one that requires the council to refer it to the voters,” Worcester advised at the outset of the debate.

The Citizens group, however, has indicated it will press the matter in court if the council rejects the ordinance and then refuses to put the property transfer to a public vote.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com.]