How binding is the vote on the entrance? | AspenTimes.com

How binding is the vote on the entrance?

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

How binding this November’s vote on the Entrance to Aspen is for the future of Highway 82 depends on whom you ask.

City Attorney John Worcester says the advisory vote on whether citizens would like to keep the existing “S-Curves” or realign the highway straight into town across the Marolt/Thomas open space is just that ? advisory.

“It has no binding effect,” he said. “This is strictly a survey of the community’s opinion at this time.”

And after 20 years of voting on the route valley residents would like to take in and out of Aspen, Worcester predicts future votes are likely.

“Sure, we could vote on that issue a few more times in the next 20 years based upon our past history,” he said. “But I think it’s an important vote because council members have indicated they would follow the opinion of the community, although there is nothing legally that binds them to that. A future council could decide differently.”

Some members of the current council seem to be more undecided than others about what this particular vote means, and how much to support the results.

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Tony Hershey thinks the community is clear that the vote is advisory, but he also says that without a doubt, he’ll be taking the community’s advice as the “final say.”

“I’ve promised to take the advice,” he said. “There are a lot of other issues to discuss, and if people don’t want to pursue this, I’ll do other things. Legally, people who say this doesn’t have weight are correct … but I’m really curious about what people think.”

Hershey added that he thinks the community will vote for the straight shot.

“It’s just a poll, but it’s more accurate than a poll,” he said. “It’s certainly fair. We’re going to get all the issues out there and see what happens.”

Councilman Terry Paulson, who co-chairs the Citizens for a Small Town Entrance committee, said he thinks it’s clearly understood that the vote is advisory, and that it “doesn’t hold any punch.”

“It does speak for what the community wants, and if the council wants to get re-elected, they’ll follow it,” he said. “It’s too bad it doesn’t have more impact than [being] advisory, because it’s the one thing we’ve never gotten to vote on ? whether this curve or that. If you look at all the votes, there’s never been a choice.”

But Paulson believes the community should have had a chance to vote on whether an open space easement key to the straight-shot plan was to be transferred to the Colorado Department of Transportation in the first place ? a decision made by Hershey, Tom McCabe and Tim Semrau while Paulson and Mayor Helen Klanderud dissented.

Councilman Semrau said the entrance issue is “a done deal.” He said after he, Hershey and McCabe voted to complete the open space land transfer and petitioners came forward against it, placing a vote on the ballot was done in “due respect” for the petitioners.

“We’ve agreed to have another vote for them,” Semrau said. “And I’ve heard every councilperson except Helen vow to take the results of this election.”

Semrau said he considers this vote the end of the line, since he hopes the City Council will take the results and either look seriously at the project, or tell CDOT the city isn’t interested in the “straight shot” option.

“I know Aspen can survive this, but I don’t know if it can survive the forever hemorrhaging that drives a stake in the heart of the community,” he said. “Hopefully this is the final vote. Unless someone has some tricks up their sleeves, this is the end of the line.”

Klanderud said, like Paulson, while she would have rather seen a vote on the subject before the land was transferred to the state, she will interpret the residents’ vote as the community’s position at this time.

“But there’s history on this issue, and [the community’s position] could change again in the future,” she said.

Klanderud said if City Council doesn’t put another question on the ballot for subsequent elections, a concerned citizen will probably want to.

“This keeps going back and forth, and has for so long, and I’m not convinced that this will end it,” she said.

Councilman McCabe initially said he would abide by the voters’ decision this fall, but now he is not certain anymore. He said if the town votes to keep the “S-Curves,” the project gets bumped off a waiting list for state funding that is 20-years long.

“I am struggling with it,” he said. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there [about the “straight shot”]. But I will take the results of the vote and put it in a mix of things that I consider whenever we have to make another decision on the Entrance to Aspen. But before they do anything, voters have to figure out what they want to do, and they’ve only got two clear options.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]