Initiative on entrance is rejected | AspenTimes.com

Initiative on entrance is rejected

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A courtroom will apparently be the next battleground in the fight over the Entrance to Aspen.

A citizens’ initiative attempting to halt the transfer of an easement across Aspen open space for the entrance was tossed out by the City Council Monday on a 3-2 vote.

City Manager Steve Barwick was instructed to go ahead and sign the documents transferring the right of way to the Colorado Department of Transportation when they arrive on his desk next month.

The Citizens for a Small Town Entrance, which circulated the initiative petitions, immediately promised to take the matter to court. In fact, the group has indicated all along they were willing to sue if the city failed to recognize their initiative.

Attorney J. Bart Johnson has already been retained to handle the matter, said Bert Myrin, one of the petition organizers.

The initiative asked the council to reverse its April decision to proceed with the property transfer and refrain from handing the easement over to CDOT unless the conveyance was approved by voters.

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Council members had several options last night. They could have rejected the proposed ordinance repealing the transfer and allowed the matter to go to a special election; they could have approved the ordinance on first reading and delayed a final vote and decision on the matter until second reading; they could have adopted the ordinance; or they could have disallowed the initiative altogether, which they did.

Councilmen Tom McCabe, Tony Hershey and Tim Semrau voted to disallow the initiative on the grounds that the council resolution adopted in April that approved the transfer was not a legislative act that is subject to the initiative process.

Mayor Helen Klanderud and Councilman Terry Paulson dissented.

The conveyance of property to realign the highway at the entrance to town was approved in April with the same 3-2 split on the council.

“I firmly believe this issue should be decided by the voters,” Semrau said. Reneging on the easement conveyance, agreed to in 1998, would constitute “a default decision” on the entrance because the project would fall out of consideration for state funding before local voters have a new chance to weigh in, he argued.

The council has discussed putting an entrance question on the November ballot, asking voters which highway alignment they prefer – the existing one or the so-called “straight shot” linking the Maroon Creek Road roundabout and the upper end of Main Street.

Paulson, who sides with the citizens’ group, lobbied for a special election to ask voters if they want the property conveyed to CDOT. That, oddly, implied he was arguing that the council should reject the ordinance proposed by the group.

“The simplest way out of this is to have a special election,” Paulson said. “You’re going to generate your own question, which is not what these people want.”

Klanderud, too, supported adopting the ordinance but said she doesn’t want a special election. With adoption of the ordinance, the council could hold off on the conveyance and then ask voters what they want in the November general election, she said.

Whether the initiative, put forth with the signatures of 802 registered city voters, would carry any force has been a matter of debate since citizens began collecting signatures in May.

City Attorney John Worcester quickly proffered the opinion that the petitions didn’t exactly meet the definition of either a referendum or an initiative, and that the administrative act the group was trying to overturn wasn’t subject to an initiative.

Johnson, representing the citizens’ group, argued the opposite view in a memorandum circulated to the council last night.

The conveyance of property for the straight shot is clearly a legislative matter, according to Johnson.

“The bottom line is that the people of Aspen, in adopting their Home Rule Charter, have expressly provided that they get to vote on whether city-owned open space should be given up,” he wrote. “For the city’s elected officials to take the position that such a decision, once made, cannot be revisited by the voters six years later would undermine the clear intent of the charter.”

City voters approved the use of the open space in 1996 for a two-lane parkway and light-rail corridor. No proposal for the Entrance to Aspen since then has passed.

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