City’s done everything it can to address Soldners
The following is in response to a letter to the editor authored by Stephanie Soldner in which she criticizes a variety of recent city of Aspen actions relating to the construction activity at the Burlingame Ranch.Some background information may be helpful to your readers. The city recently contracted to construct an access road from Harmony Lane to the proposed affordable housing village and to lay utilities upon an easement granted by the Bar/X Ranch to the city.This project is intended to be complete in time to coincide with the long awaited start of construction of phase one of the affordable housing village at Burlingame Ranch. The design and alignment of the access road, to the west of the Soldner property, was approved by the City Council at the behest of the Soldner family. As a result of their recommendations for the access road, the city, the Bar/X Ranch and the Soldners entered into a comprehensive agreement to grant easements, convey requisite parcels of land, and temporary construction easements to facilitate the construction of the access road and utilities. In her letter to the editor, Stephanie alerts the community that the city of Aspen began using the Bar/X Ranch lands for storage and staging without a permit from Pitkin County. It is true that materials were stored in an area of the Bar/X Ranch that had been agreed to by the Bar/X Ranch and Soldner family for such activity in accordance with the agreement entered into by the parties. A Pitkin County earth moving permit was obtained, but apparently, unbeknownst to city staff, Pitkin County also requires a commercial use permit to store building materials to be used on property owned by another owner. Upon being notified of this requirement, the staging area was cleared of all building materials and moved to the city-owned Burlingame Ranch.Stephanie also alleges in her letter that 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.” This charge is simply untrue. Our constitutional right to referendum and initiative is viewed by the city of Aspen as a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens by the Colorado Constitution and the Aspen Home Rule Charter.Stephanie’s complaint stems from a recent attempt by citizens to circulate two initiative petitions seeking voter approval to adopt ordinances that would affect the method by which the city contracts for services and to alter the annexation process. At the time the city clerk reviewed the contents of the proposed petitions to ensure that they complied with the technical requirements of state law, she had the legal authority to reject the petitions on the grounds that the petitions do not propose municipal legislation. On the advice of the city attorney, the petitions were deemed proper as to form, but the proponents were cautioned that the proposed ordinances may not be proper matters for the initiative process. The decision to not summarily reject the petitions was made, not to frustrate any initiative efforts, but to not prematurely interfere with citizens’ constitutional rights to initiate city ordinances.Your readers should understand that the right to initiate ordinances is specifically limited to proposed ordinances that are legislative in nature as opposed to administrative matters. On a day-to-day basis, city elected officials are required to make decisions on administrative functions facing the city, such as the purchase of city vehicles, establishment of parking fees, and the proper maintenance of city-owned lands and buildings. These decisions are not considered legislative matters subject to the right of initiative. As the Colorado Supreme Court has stated, “To subject each such decision to referendum or initiative would result in chaos and bring the machinery of government to a halt.” Your elected officials and city staff are not engaging in any new plan or conspiracy to deprive citizens of their right to initiate ordinances that are truly legislative in nature. We are not perfect and we do make mistakes, but to suggest that a conspiracy exists to deprive citizens of their constitutional rights is simply unfair. We understand the Soldner family’s concerns about the activity proposed right next to their property. We have attempted at every turn to listen and accommodate their concerns. The very alignment and design of the access road is testimony to our efforts in this regard.Steve Barwick is Aspen’s city manager.
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