Aspen will let voters decide where new city offices should go
Aspen voters this fall will decide their preference on where new city offices should be built, elected leaders agreed Tuesday.
With little discussion, City Council signed off on a settlement agreement with two city residents who sued the local government over its approval for as much as 37,500 square feet of new offices between Rio Grande Park and Galena Plaza.
Council also voted on language that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The settlement agreement stipulates that plaintiffs Steve Goldenberg and Marcia Goshorn, who are assisted by Snowmass Canyon resident Toni Kronberg, must stay their lawsuit until the election is certified.
If the majority of voters choose Ordinance 4, which council passed in 2017 that approved the Rio Grande office building, the case will be dismissed with prejudice.
“This agreement provides a waiver of any rights of these three litigants to institute any kind of claim against the city to object to Ordinance 4 or otherwise try to delay it,” City Attorney Jim True said. “We believe that this settlement agreement is appropriate at this time, which could resolve the litigation once and for all.”
If the majority of voters support the city buying 27,000 square feet of turnkey office space at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. and 204 S. Galena St. from developer Mark Hunt, the city will rescind the ordinance approving the Rio Grande project.
The only way the legal case continues is if negotiations on a real estate contract between the city and Hunt break down and the deal for turnkey office space doesn’t happen.
True said there are still outstanding issues with the final terms of the purchase, as well as Hunt’s development contract to remodel City Hall for $15.8 million.
That is why both sides agreed upon a compromise that allows the litigation to be stayed until after the election results are certified.
“That contract could fall apart, not necessarily due to any action on your part but just due to actions on Mr. Hunt’s part also,” True told council. “… If it were to blow up, on or before Dec. 3, the contract with Mr. Hunt, then the litigation with Ordinance 4 … the stay is lifted and that just proceeds. … It’s a little complicated but we felt it was important not to put you in a worse position than you are today.”
Goshorn, Goldenberg and Kronberg agreed to the settlement because the matter is going before voters, which is what they wanted in the first place. They sued the city after they were denied putting council’s Ordinance 4 to a referendum vote.
“The best option out of this is that we are going to have new city offices and the voters will get a chance to decide where the city offices are. … I can’t think of a better situation than what’s before you right here,” Kronberg told council.
A judge ruled in the city’s favor last month, dismissing the case. But there is still uncertainty around the litigation, which puts the Rio Grande project at risk.
Currently it’s estimated to cost upward of $22 million, and projections continue to climb due to escalations in the construction industry.
Hunt’s offer includes about 27,000 square feet of developed space for $32.5 million, along with the City Hall remodel, which would reportedly cost the city less than if it did on its own.
Last week, council extended the real estate contract with Hunt until December. The due diligence period was set to expire Sept. 1.
The measure that will be placed on the November ballot is advisory only, but the terms of the settlement make the election results binding.
“We are going to stick by our word and we are not going to go back on it,” Kronberg said. “Jim (True) has produced a pretty much iron-clad settlement agreement that both sides are treated fairly.”
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The city of Aspen’s office building is exempt from paying encroachment fees, yet private developers have to now pay $9 a square foot, per month, starting in 2020.