Entrance initiative may be futile effort
May 8, 2002
A group of Aspenites long opposed to rerouting the highway into town is trying to stop the transfer of a key piece of property to the Colorado Department of Transportation with another vote.
But their effort to place an initiative on the fall ballot may be fruitless – even if they win the election.
City Attorney John Worcester said yesterday that an initiative cannot reverse a resolution by the City Council, which is exactly what the initiative is trying to do.
Clifford Weiss, Lenir Drake and Bert Myrin have filed papers needed to start the citizen initiative process. They need about 800 signatures to place the question on the ballot.
The language in the initiative is written to repeal Aspen City Council Resolution No. 34. The resolution transferred the right of way across the Marolt open space to CDOT in exchange for undeveloped property at the confluence of Brush Creek and the Roaring Fork River.
The Marolt open space is the triangle of undeveloped land between Castle Creek Road and Highway 82, from the roundabout to Castle Creek.
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Worcester said the initiative process is designed to deal with legislative, not administrative, matters.
If, for instance, Weiss, Drake and Myrin didn’t like an ordinance passed by the council, such as the one requiring people to pay for parking in much of downtown Aspen, then they could attempt to reverse the law with an initiative.
But their initiative doesn’t do that. Instead, it is meant to repeal a resolution, which is an administrative decision made by a legislative body. In the case of the council’s Resolution No. 34, passed 3-2 on April 22, the council was following through on an agreement to transfer the right of way to CDOT.
“Citizens don’t have the right to overturn a resolution – it’s an administrative act,” Worcester said. “And all council was doing was following the will of the voters.”
By a wide margin, voters in 1996 authorized the city and the state to build a two-lane parkway and a light rail platform across the Marolt open space. That election followed a 1990 vote that authorized four lanes of unrestricted highway across the open space.
Based on the 1996 election, CDOT has created a plan that includes a 400-foot cut-and-cover tunnel that would take the pavement and the rail platform underground, creating uninterrupted open space from the municipal golf course to Castle Creek.
City Councilman Tony Hershey, who voted in favor of the resolution with colleagues Tim Semrau and Tom McCabe, said it is time for the opposition to step aside.
“There comes a point where you have to move on. We’re going to transfer the land so people can get in and out of Aspen safely and efficiently,” he said.
Hershey pointed out that much of the opposition to rerouting the highway comes from people who are directly affected. That includes residents of Eighth Street and the Castle Creek Valley and hang gliding enthusiasts who like to land on the empty fields at the traditional entrance to town. Weiss and Drake reside in a condominium complex on Eighth Street, near the planned route for the highway.
“I think its unfair that a small minority can undo the will of the majority,” Hershey said.
But opponents of CDOT’s plan say things have changed since 1996. They point to numbers from the city’s own transportation staff indicating that the number of automobiles crossing the Castle Creek bridge into town has been declining for several years. They note that ridership on public buses has been declining in recent years, as well.
“In voting for the train [in 1996], I think people were willing to compromise open space for that goal,” Myrin said. “The train is not eminent now, so I don’t think the support is there for the alternative.”
That alternative may include bus lanes instead of train tracks to go with the new two-lane parkway. But in 2001, Aspen voters declined to allow two lanes of dedicated busway across Marolt as part of a phased plan to complete the work on Highway 82 all the way into Aspen.
“My biggest concern is not the vote in 1996,” Myrin said. “It’s Tim Semrau’s stated expectation that we have the option to build dedicated bus lanes. Council is, I think, going against the will of the voters.”
As for the legal question about using a citizen initiative to undo a council resolution, Myrin said it should be decided by a judge.