Entrance to Aspen ballot narrowed to pair of options | AspenTimes.com

Entrance to Aspen ballot narrowed to pair of options

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen voters will either be asked an either/or question about the Entrance to Aspen in November, or they’ll be asked a yes/no question.

After a lively debate Tuesday, the City Council narrowed a list of potential ballot questions on the controversial entrance issue to a couple of choices. City Attorney John Worcester was directed to prepare resolutions to place each of the questions on the ballot with the expectation that the council will pick one of them at its Aug. 26 meeting.

With four council members present at yesterday’s work session, two – Councilmen Tim Semrau and Tony Hershey – appeared to favor a simple either/or question: “Which alignment for the Entrance to Aspen do you prefer (choose only one). A – “S curves” (existing alignment); or B – Modified Direct alignment across the Marolt/Thomas property.”

“What I would like to do is, for once, have a question for the citizens instead of the lawyers,” said Semrau, advocating the simple either/or query.

“I don’t like either/or questions,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “Ask the question.”

She appeared to favor a yes/no question that would ask voters something along these lines: “Shall the citizens of Aspen support the completion of improvements to State Highway 82 at the entrance to Aspen by realigning the highway over the Marolt and Thomas properties as approved by the voters in 1996?”

Both questions are an attempt to gauge city voters on whether or not they want Highway 82 realigned across open space at the western entrance to town. Voters approved a two-lane parkway and light-rail corridor in the new, modified direct alignment in 1996.

Since then, voters have rejected funding for light rail and dedicated bus lanes as an alternative transit component in the new alignment. The Citizens for a Small Town Entrance, who have sued the city and the Colorado Department of Transportation in an attempt to block Aspen’s conveyance of an easement across the open space, contend voters no longer support use of the open space for the highway.

While council members have agreed to check in with the voters, the wording of the ballot question has been the subject of several lengthy and contentious debates.

A split vote on either of the questions the council moved forward Tuesday could again leave city government without any clear direction from the populace, Klanderud noted.

“You could have 50/50 on all of these, and then where are you?” she said.

Klanderud also questioned what it means if voters endorse the modified direct alignment. The community remains in a stalemate over what exactly to build there, she said.

Another vote authorizing what could actually be constructed would be necessary, City Manager Steve Barwick agreed.

Citizen David Guthrie questioned the need to poll voters again on the alignment issue. It was decided in 1996, he argued.

“What happened to this vote? Did it just disappear, the ’96 vote?” he said. “There’s an integrity issue here. The voters voted to convey that easement.”

Dennis Vaughn, who opposes the new alignment, told the council that dangling the S-curves as an option is “totally unfair” unless the city intends to honor a vote for the existing S-curves alignment.

“You have to guarantee, if it’s in favor of the S-curves, that it’s going to override the results of ’96,” he said.

His comment led to renewed debate over whether CDOT would honor a vote against the new alignment once the easement is in its hands, and on whether delaying conveyance of the easement would jeopardize the entrance project’s ranking in a new prioritized list for state funding that may be done before the November election.

The city is scheduled to sign off on the conveyance Thursday, though Klanderud pleaded with the council again to delay the property transfer.

“What troubles me is, if you believe a question should be asked, it makes no sense to me to convey something before you ask the question,” she said.

Both Semrau and Hershey reiterated their support for proceeding to convey the easement. Klanderud and Councilman Terry Paulson oppose handing over the right of way now.

Councilman Tom McCabe has, in the past, also supported turning over the right of way to CDOT. He did not attend yesterday’s council session.

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

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