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Initiative appeal up in air

Janet Urquhart

At least one Burlingame opponent who hoped to put new controls on Aspen’s ability to develop worker housing isn’t sure that fight will continue.Dwight Shellman, a former Pitkin County commissioner who helped bring forward a pair of initiative petitions related to city housing development, has softened his call to continue the battle over the petitions in court.Shellman, along with former Commissioner Joe Edwards, were the key forces behind the two initiatives, which were shot down by a hearing officer earlier this month. The pair had hoped to put both initiatives on the May 3 ballot, and supporters collected enough signatures on each of the initiative petitions to do so. Thwarting the effort were protests against both initiatives, filed by City Council candidate J.E. DeVilbiss, who was later joined by housing advocate Frank Peters. Both initiatives were declared invalid after a hearing on their protests, but Shellman immediately predicted an appeal in district court.Now he’s not so sure.”We’re kind of just holding up on it to see if it’s worth the investment,” Shellman said this week. Edwards agreed.An appeal must be filed within 30 days after the protest ruling, which gives the initiative sponsors – officially Edwards and former Mayor Bill Stirling – until shortly after the May 3 election to decide their next step. A separate referendum on the May ballot will determine whether Burlingame goes forward.”If Burlingame is rejected and the right people are elected to the council, it could be resolved,” Shellman said. “It’s possible there could be a significant shift on the council.”That shift could obviate the need for the initiatives, or Aspen will head down a path of continued growth in worker housing, Shellman theorized. “That is a choice the community is totally at liberty to make. I will predict much of this area is going to look like Willits,” he said, referring to the development outside Basalt.”Then we’ll know it’s over. We won’t need to fight it anymore,” said Shellman, stressing he was voicing his own views, not speaking for any organized group of Burlingame opponents.The two initiatives, which Shellman has said were spurred by “abuses” that led to the city’s proposed Burlingame Ranch housing project on the outskirts of Aspen, would place new restrictions on the city’s development of housing. One measure would prohibit annexation or preannexation agreements of the type that established the parameters for Burlingame. The other would subject “major affordable housing” projects to a public vote.Both were ruled invalid by the hearing officer, who said the measures weren’t strictly legislative in nature, but strayed into government administrative matters that aren’t subject to citizens’ initiative powers.What’s legislative versus administrative is a gray area over which legal minds disagree, conceded Shellman, an attorney himself.It’s a precedent-setting case that could wind up before the Colorado Supreme Court, should either the city or the backers of the initiatives choose to pursue it that far, he said.”That isn’t something you enter into lightly,” Shellman said.Proponents of the two initiatives may not be willing to devote more time to the fight or to raise the kind of money such a legal battle would require, he said.”People run out of steam and they run out of willingness to contribute,” Shellman said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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