Aspen officials fight back against possible referendum on new city building
The city of Aspen filed a motion in Pitkin County District Court on Wednesday asking a judge to reverse his earlier decision about the legality of how a 37,000-square-foot new municipal office building was approved.
City Attorney Jim True’s motion to reconsider District Court Judge John Neiley’s Jan. 30 ruling comes after Aspen City Council met in executive session to discuss its next move in the case.
What is at stake is whether the city’s estimated $22 million project at Rio Grande Place in the old Chamber of Commerce building will go to voters. Crews plan to begin work on the project this spring unless council gives a different directive in the coming weeks.
Neiley ruled that council’s decision was “legislative” and therefore subject to a citizen referendum. The city had filed a motion to dismiss, contending that council’s approval of a new office building was “administrative” and therefore not subject to a referendum. Neiley ruled against the city’s motion to dismiss.
True wrote in his motion to reconsider that the “ruling of the court simply means that virtually every land-use approval is now subject to a referendum.” He cited several recent decisions by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Historic Preservation Commission that would fall under that, given the court’s interpretation. Examples True offered were approvals that altered the size of a window, or an administrative amendment to allow a door on a trash enclosure.
True argued that by statute, property owners, including the city, have the right to be protected by quasi-judicial evaluations, and the electorate should not decide their developments.
Last May — a month after council approved the project — Aspen residents Steve Goldenberg and Marcia Goshorn, along with Snowmass Canyon resident Toni Kronberg, attempted to put a referendum to voters, but City Clerk Linda Manning said they did not get the adequate number of signatures for their petition in the required timeframe.
In his ruling, Neiley sided with the petitioners, writing that their “petition was timely based on the date the notice was published.”
That issue, along with others in the complicated case, will be addressed at a status conference scheduled for March 7.
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Aspen Sister Cities members dedicated a plaque in Sister Cities Plaza to Don Sheeley, who served as president of the organization from 1998 until his death in 2017.