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Park Place awaits ruling

Janet Urquhart

A hearing officer is expected to rule Wednesday on whether or not initiative petitions that seek to put a proposed Aspen parking garage to a public vote are valid.

Karen Goldman, former secretary to the Colorado Senate and now a consultant on election issues, conducted a four-and-a-half-hour hearing Friday on several challenges to the petitions circulated by would-be garage developer Peter Fornell.

Six neighbors of Fornell’s proposed automated parking garage on Hyman Avenue filed protests challenging his petitions. None of them testified during last week’s hearing at City Hall; instead, their objections were outlined by attorneys Michael Hoffman and Herb Klein. One of the protesters, Fred Martell, attended the hearing, while another sat in briefly on the relatively dry proceedings.

Fornell, who also attended but did not testify, said he expects to prevail when Goldman issues her ruling.

“I remain fully confident that the facts are on my side,” he said.

Fornell represents Hyman Avenue Holdings LLC, which has proposed Park Place, a $6 million, 99-space parking garage next to the Benedict Commons affordable housing. An A-frame structure that had existed at the site was razed last week.

Fornell began circulating petitions after the City Council rejected his project late last year, collecting enough signatures to force a public vote on the garage proposal if the council is unwilling to reconsider its denial.

Neighbors lodged protests against his initiative on two grounds. They contend the ordinance he wants to put before voters – the same one the council voted down last December – contains numerous components that aren’t valid subjects for a citizen’s initiative. Further, the protests claim Fornell misled the public, as the petitions didn’t make the private nature of the garage clear.

The summary paragraph on the petitions referred to a 99-space commercial parking facility, but didn’t elaborate that only 19 spaces will be dedicated to short-term public parking, Klein said. The other 80 spaces are slated to be sold to individual buyers; they may or may not be available as public parking, depending on whether the owners are using them.

“That’s a material omission that’s fatal to the entire petition,” Klein argued.

A copy of the ordinance explaining details of the project was attached to the petitions, but it’s unlikely a citizen standing outside in the cold would read through the 17-page document, he added.

“The integrity of the process here is really at stake,” Klein said.

Hoffman and Klein called Mitch Haas, a local land-use planning consultant, as the protesters’ only witness. He was questioned on the various elements of the Park Place ordinance that the two attorneys concluded cannot be put to a public vote through an initiative.

Those provisions of the ordinance addressed such issues as housing mitigation, school and parks impact fees, and the city’s growth-management requirements.

The ordinance is fundamentally a zoning action, countered Munsey Ayers, a Denver attorney representing Fornell. And, the zoning to allow the garage project is a valid subject for an initiative, he said.

Ayers also dismissed complaints that the summary paragraph on the petitions was misleading.

“It describes the fundamental character of the proposal, which is all that’s required by law,” he said.

The debate over how frequently the garage spaces will be available for public use is appropriate during the campaign leading up to a vote on the project, Ayers argued. The initiative petitions can’t be challenged on the basis of that issue, though, he said.

While one of the protesters, Robert Baum, signed an affidavit claiming Fornell misrepresented Park Place as a public parking garage while he collected signatures, Ayers said there’s no evidence that the citizens who signed the petitions were unclear about the project. Baum didn’t sign a petition.

“You don’t have an affidavit from anyone who says they signed the petition under great confusion,” Ayers said.

“There is no evidence that any signatory was confused about anything here.”

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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