Judge rules against Aspen on public vote question for $22M city building
A judge has ruled against the city of Aspen in its effort to build new municipal offices at Rio Grande Place.
Saturday’s order by Pitkin County District Court Judge John Neiley means the 37,000-square-foot building remains on hold indefinitely. Crews were scheduled to start construction on the $22 million project in March but were called off while the legal wrangling drags on.
Neiley denied the city’s motion to reconsider his January ruling, which effectively says the public should be able to vote on a new building via a constitutional right of referendum.
Neiley upheld his ruling 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 not subject to a public vote. Neiley ruled against the city’s motions to dismiss in January and April 7.
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In his most recent order, Neiley shut down City Attorney Jim True’s position that based on the court’s ruling “virtually every land-use approval is now subject to a referendum.”
“The court did not find that the right of referendum applies to ‘all’ site-specific development approvals, only to the site-specific approval in this particular case,” Neiley wrote. “As the city is well aware, the court decision in this matter is not binding precedent with regard to any other development approvals that may come before the city or the court. Thus, the city’s argument that the court has opened the floodgates to referendum petitions for all manner of minor land-use approvals is overblown.”
Aspen residents Steve Goldenberg and Marcia Goshorn, along with Snowmass Canyon resident Toni Kronberg, filed the lawsuit last year. A month after council approved the project, they 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 time frame.
The judge sided with the citizens in an earlier ruling, saying their petition was timely. But what’s still at issue is whether the petitioners had a sufficient number of signatures.
But Manning said of the 753 petition signatures only 396 were valid.
Denver-based attorney Jordan Porter, who represents the petitioners, said Monday he is determining what his next course of action will be, but likely it will be up to the court to rule on this final matter in the case.
He expects that a status conference will be set so both sides can get guidance from the court on how to proceed.
True said he’s disappointed in the judge’s ruling but noted that Neiley did acknowledge the issues he raised.
“It was a tough ask on my part” to have the judge reconsider his earlier ruling, True said Monday.
True said he hasn’t decided on how to proceed, either. He could ask the judge to take a portion of the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, or wait until the signature issue is resolved in district court. Council also could rescind the ordinance that approves the project, or take it to a public vote.
True informed council members of the court’s most recent decision but he said he doesn’t plan on meeting with them in executive session to discuss the matter.
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