Wrangling over Entrance to Aspen to continue

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Though the Colorado Supreme Court recently shot down an attempt to put a proposed realignment of Highway 82 on the edge of Aspen before city voters, a separate initiative aimed at funding a new Entrance to Aspen remains in play, according to its proponents.

A ballot initiative on the funding issue, put forward by longtime Entrance to Aspen activist Jeffrey Evans, along with Courtney Keller and Curtis Vagneur, was upheld in District Court last year. The trio sought to put a funding question on the county ballot via the citizen initiative process. The goal was proposing a countywide tax increase to improve Highway 82 between Buttermilk and Seventh and Main streets in Aspen, creating a four-lane highway with two general vehicle lanes and two vehicle or HOV/transit lanes that would bypass the S-curves bottleneck on the edge of town. The so-called “straight shot” alignment would take the highway over the city’s Marolt Open Space.

The initiative was to propose increasing county debt by as much as $38 million, with a maximum repayment cost of $60 million, to pool with money from the Colorado Department of Transportation to build the new entrance.

However, with last month’s state Supreme Court ruling in Vagneur v. City of Aspen, a citizen initiative to change use of the Marolt Open Space is off the table, Evans conceded Monday. The high court said the city was correct in determining that two citizen proposals regarding the design and construction of a new route for Highway 82 were “administrative in character” and therefore fell outside the scope of power that is reserved to the people through voter-driven initiatives.

It will be up to elected city officials to put a question before voters on use of Marolt for a four-lane straight shot, Evans said. Support from a City Council majority of three would be necessary to propose it.

“If the voters of Aspen want to fix the Entrance to Aspen, they have to quit electing the people they’ve been electing,” he said.

The petition submitted to the county in 2008 has remained the subject of litigation. The county appealed the District Court ruling but now has filed a motion to dismiss the appeal and vacate the District Court judgment, arguing the appeal is moot, given the decision in the lawsuit against the city.

Evans, Keller and Vagneur, however, recently submitted a revised initiative petition to county Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill that eliminates reference to the citizen-initiated ordinance in the city. The goal is continuing to push for a citizen-initiated ballot question that proposes funding for a new entrance.

If the county initiative ever makes it to the ballot, voters countywide would have a chance to vote on funding for the entrance – a necessary step should city voters ever approve use of the Marolt Open Space for a four-lane highway with HOV/transit lanes, Evans contends.

“This is a way for county voters to say, ‘You know what, Aspen, if you’d be willing to fix your entrance, we’d be willing to help pay for it,'” said Evans, who anticipates the legal battle will continue.

Vos Caudill has rejected the revised petition, Evans noted, though the petitioners have asked for clarification on her reasoning.

The original petition was rejected because it conflicted with the county charter – an argument that didn’t prevail in District Court, Evans said. The revised petition was rejected for being administrative rather than legislative in nature, in keeping with the high court’s decision in Vagneur v. City of Aspen.

The city of Aspen case isn’t relevant to the petition initiative in the county, Evans said.