It’s decision time for city of Aspen on last ballot question for November | AspenTimes.com

It’s decision time for city of Aspen on last ballot question for November

In an 11th hour move, Aspen City Council will consider today approving a ballot question asking voters to decide where municipal offices should be built.

With the deadline to finalize language for the November ballot Friday, council will have to act quickly.

Hinging on the decision is whether two Aspen residents will drop their lawsuit against the city over its already approved but yet-to-be-built office building between Rio Grande Park and Galena Plaza.

City Attorney Jim True said via email Monday that he is working with the litigants and their attorney, Denver-based Jordan Porter, on a settlement agreement.

"We continued to work on it over the weekend and I do believe that we will be able to submit a draft to council tomorrow," True wrote.

The settlement agreement must stipulate that Marcia Goshorn and Steve Goldenberg, who are being assisted by Snowmass Canyon resident Toni Kronberg, dismiss the lawsuit regardless of the election outcome.

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Even though a judge dismissed the case in the city's favor last month, there is still uncertainty around the litigation, which puts the project at risk.

It's approved for as much as 37,500 square feet on city-owned property and is currently estimated to cost just over $22 million. But that price is expected to go up due to escalating construction costs.

Meanwhile, the city has another office building option in front of it. Last week, council extended a real estate contract until December with developer Mark Hunt to purchase nearly 27,000 square feet of turnkey office space at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. and 204 S. Galena St. for $32.5 million.

The contract was amended so that voters can decide their preference on which option they want for municipal office space Nov. 6.

However, the question is only advisory and non-binding, meaning council is the ultimate decider and can go against the will of the voters.

Some would argue that it did just that when it asked an advisory question in 2015 if the current City Hall, known historically as the Armory, should be converted to community use instead of offices.

The advisory question narrowly passed in favor of the conversion but council has no plans to change City Hall, other than to remodel it.

The pending real estate contract with Hunt includes having his development team redevelop City Hall for $15 million.

Goshorn and Goldenberg, through their lawsuit, were attempting to put the city's Rio Grande office, which was approved via ordinance in 2017, to the voters by referendum. The city didn't want that for fear it would be shot down.

Council is scheduled to meet today at 4 p.m. in its chambers at City Hall. The meeting will be public, although an executive session has been scheduled if elected officials need to discuss the lawsuit or the real estate deal confidentially.

csackariason@aspentimes.com