City of Aspen hopes to keep municipal office project from going to public vote

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
An architect's rendering of what a new municipal office would look like on Rio Grande Place.
City of Aspen/courtesy image |

The city of Aspen is moving forward with its plans to build more than 37,000 square feet of new office space despite a judge’s recent ruling in favor of a group of citizens attempting to stop it.

Jeff Pendarvis, the city’s facilities and property manager, said Thursday that it’s a fluid situation but plans are still a go to ask Aspen City Council this month to approve a contract with Shaw Construction. Shaw has been selected to gut the old chamber of the commerce office next to the parking garage. If council approves the contract, crews would begin work this spring.

Council approved the $22 million project last April. A month later, two Aspen residents 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.

The petitioners, Steve Goldenberg and Marcia Goshorn, sued the city, arguing they were denied an extra day per the Home Rule Charter.

The city filed a motion to dismiss, contending that council’s approval of a new office building was “administrative” and therefore not subject to a referendum.

On Tuesday, Pitkin County District Court Judge John Neiley ruled against the city’s motion to dismiss. He ruled that not only was council’s decision “legislative” and therefore subject to a citizen referendum, but also that the petitioners had another day to submit the required amount of signatures to get the question on the ballot.

The city notified the petitioners May 12, 2017, that their deadline was the end of the business day May 15, 2017. The deadline, however, was still in question because the city published the ordinance the petitioners were challenging, under the requirements of the Home Rule Charter, on April 12.

Activist Toni Kronberg, who also is involved in the lawsuit, and others spent the weekend gathering what she said were 753 signatures of registered Aspen voters — more than 100 over the 640 signatures they needed — and turned them in May 15.

Another letter from Manning to the petitioners, dated June 13, said the clerk met with the City Attorney’s Office, and it was determined that the deadline was, in fact, May 12. Additionally, Manning’s letter stated that of the 753 petition signatures that were submitted to the city, just 396 were valid.

In his ruling, Neiley sided with the petitioners, writing that their “petition was timely based on the date the notice was published.”

“The only remaining question is; can we go out and collect more signatures?” Kronberg said Thursday.

That issue, along with others in the complicated case, will be addressed at an upcoming status conference. Neiley ordered the parties to set a date with the court within the next 30 days to deal with outstanding issues in the case.

In the meantime, City Attorney Jim True said he plans to file a motion to reconsider with the court, specifically on the legislative versus administrative argument. True said he will prepare the necessary court documents prior to the status conference, as well as meet with Aspen City Council in executive session.

“I do suspect that we’ll have a conversation with council on (Feb. 12),” he said.

Kronberg said she is pleased with Neiley’s ruling but their fight is not over.

“We are just trying to get the question on the ballot so voters can exercise their constitutional right,” she said.