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Beware of Burlingame

Stephanie Soldner

Aspen has always prided itself on choosing to retain the small scale of our community, from the size of business signs and the height of its buildings to the redevelopment of a hotel and even the Music Tent. All of these decisions have been made consciously with the goal of maintaining the intimate special character of the Aspen we all love. However, the city of Aspen is about to change all that if it has its way. A few points to consider about the proposed Burlingame housing project:• In 2000, city voters approved a revocable pre-annexation agreement that neglected to disclose in the ballot question that, if built, 225 units would result in a $22 million deficit. • The location of the proposed Burlingame Village is approximately 4.3 miles from the Hotel Jerome. More than 1,000 men, women and children will need transportation. The additional cost of frequent transit service through Burlingame Village will exceed $1 million each year and RFTA is almost bankrupt this year.• One thousand people means that more than 2,000 car trips could be added to the highway each day. Is this acceptable?• What effect will more than 300 additional schoolchildren have on class size and on the school district budget?• Aspen Valley Hospital is in financial crisis. How will it respond to the needs of Burlingame Village? • Subsidized housing will never be taxed at the full rate, even though these residents use a larger share of local services than owners of free-market homes who are fully taxed. How much more subsidized housing can we afford?• The city has never come forward with accurate numbers about how many employee units are vacant. I have been told that the market is flooded. Private businesses and private landowners must compete against a developer (the city) that operates according to its own set of rules. • The city recently committed to spend more than $2 million (incredibly, $6 million less than previous estimates) on roads and infrastructure without having decided what the Burlingame project will actually be. Most important, the city of Aspen has not disclosed to the public how much Burlingame Village is really going to cost and how this will impact the city budget, quite possibly violating the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, also known as the TABOR Amendment. • The city plans to forge ahead, although there have been no land-use approvals.The Aspen City Council has steadfastly refused for eight years to order a comprehensive and detailed community impact study on the proposed Burlingame Village development. What are they afraid to find out? If the Burlingame project is valid and good, then the study will support it. If there are definite concerns, the study will highlight those, and the issues can be mitigated in a responsible way. If the study points out massive problems, they must be faced as well.Over the past year and a half, my father, Paul Soldner, and I have been in talks with the city and the Zolines. The ordeal has been expensive, exhausting and disheartening. We have been bullied into accepting that the road accessing Burlingame Village will go through what was, until recently, our property. It has been shocking to realize that eight years ago when the city and the Zolines were negotiating the pre-annexation agreement, they intentionally neglected to include us, the parties who were to be most affected by their plans. They believed they could legally leave us out. They knew that sooner or later we would be disastrously affected by the two awful options they cleverly agreed upon behind closed doors.So why does any of this matter?What has been done to us is being done to you, the citizens and taxpayers of Aspen. You are being skillfully manipulated, denied important information and may be forced to accept the result of the city’s arrogance.The Aspen City Council has a fiduciary responsibility to its citizens. Not only should there have been a comprehensive community impact study done, but if this project continues, independent oversight may be needed as well.The city of Aspen is becoming the largest developer in Western Colorado. I am writing to encourage you to demand accountability for the Burlingame project; the process has hardly been transparent.Construction may begin any day; a new fence has been erected on the Zoline land isolating the pathway for the infrastructure leading to the proposed Burlingame Village. This may happen even before a vote of approval for the entire project has occurred. Why? Because the city and Zolines know — see Soldner on page A14– continued from page A12that if they proceed piecemeal, after more than $2 million has been spent on infrastructure, it will be virtually impossible to change or stop this project, even if it is proven to be unwise or prohibitively costly for taxpayers.However, there is recourse for interested and willing citizens. It is stated in the pre-annexation agreement that “the parties acknowledge that annexation and zoning are subject to … the rights of referendum and initiative reserved unto its citizens.” The parties referred to are “the landowner,” meaning the Zolines, and the city. 1. Citizens can force an initiative to stop any further work, contracts, commitments or expenditure of money on Burlingame until a detailed and comprehensive community impact study is complete and all plans for the project are made public, including a detailed budget and anticipated costs to the taxpayers.2. Citizens and interested parties could sue, and there are grounds to do so.3. Citizens can use state rule 106 to petition the court within 30 days after the final vote to stop the project.4. Citizens can petition for a referendum on Burlingame Village within 30 days after the final vote.In the event the city decides not to proceed with the pre-annexation agreement, its obligation to the Zolines is “the right to reimbursement for landowner’s costs and fees including reasonable attorney fees, incurred in the negotiation, drafting or landowners performance of this agreement or of any acts required of City hereunder and all the costs incurred as a result of City’s breach, including without limitation, the preparation and processing of the development plan, and any attorney fees incurred to perform defense obligations of city.”But beware! The following statement is also in the pre-annexation agreement and it is bone-chilling. This is your city government working for you:”… the city has agreed to vigorously defend at its sole cost any citizen challenges to the proposed annexation, including the free-market interests of the Landowners.”Amazing.Stephanie Soldner grew up in Aspen and graduated from Aspen High School. Her parents, Paul and Ginny Soldner, began building a home and art studio in the 1950s at the base of Deer Hill. She is married to Garrett (Steve) Sullivan, also an Aspen High School graduate. She can be reached at sssoldner@aol.com.


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