Council wants research done on trolley cars | AspenTimes.com

Council wants research done on trolley cars

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The City Council agreed Monday to research crafting a ballot question on the fate of Aspen’s trolley cars, but it made no promises on whether the issue will ever actually appear on a ballot.

A crowd of about 50 filled the chambers for the council meeting, where a vast majority told the city they support a fall vote on the possibility of using the six cars as an in-town shuttle.

Council members said that a vote on the topic should not be just an advisory one, but should include enough details for the community to make an informed decision. At a future work session, the council plans to determine what information it needs to gather before constructing a ballot question.

Assistant City Manager Ed Sadler warned that researching every aspect of a trolley line could cost $100,000, depending on how specific the council wants to be. Several council members voiced support for a question on the ballot, but only if it is detailed enough for the public to make a decision.

“If I jump on board with putting this to a vote, there would be some cost to the research involved. It would not be a fluffy question; it would be a tough question,” said Councilman Tom McCabe.

Councilman Tim Semrau said he thinks it makes sense for the council to take the time to research an informed ballot question, so the issue “can be done with.” The trolley debate has waxed and waned locally since the cars were purchased in 1978.

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Five of the cars sit under tarps at Cozy Point Ranch, and the sixth is kept at the town dump.

Trolley supporter and Aspenite Camilla Sparlin said so far she and the Aspen Street Railway Co. have collected 994 signatures, 728 of which are registered voters. She also maintains that 14 out of every 15 passers-by were in favor of trolleys in town, and she received no negative comments from tourists.

But McCabe argued that petition gave no detail about the cost or other details of the project.

“The petition was so general that in many ways it is a disservice and not an actual reflection” of the realities of building a trolley, McCabe said.

But one by one, locals stood to rally behind a community vote.

“This is a marvelous opportunity to resolve this question once and for all,” said Aspenite Richard Cohen. “If it’s placed on the November ballot, in the interim all of the information about the trolley cars can get out.”

The handful of participants who spoke against a ballot question said a vote will continue to drag the issue out needlessly for an unknown number of years at taxpayers’ expense.

“If this goes on the ballot … it’s never going to end,” said Aspen resident Sheldon Fingerman. “And if riding on a trolley is the highlight of someone’s visit to Aspen, we have some serious problems here that the City Council needs to address.”

Eve Homeyer, Aspen’s mayor when the trolley question first came to light over 20 years ago, just shook her head.

“I’m laughing my head off,” she said.

Since there are no primary elections scheduled for August thus far, trolley proponents would like the question to appear on the November ballot. Several communities worldwide have expressed an interest in the trolleys, but Sadler has been instructed to put his solicitations of the cars on hold until a decision is made about keeping the trolleys or giving them away.

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