Old Daily News Building

The building at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. is set to be torn down. Aspen voters will decide whether they want new city offices in the redeveloped building or in a new building the city council approved in 2017 near Galena Plaza.

Aspen City Council on Tuesday approved a ballot question for the Nov. 6 election that will ask voters to choose between two options for new municipal office space.

The council on Tuesday also approved a settlement agreement with plaintiffs who sued the city hoping to force a public vote on the office space project.

The vote and settlement go hand in hand. The agreement calls for the plaintiffs to seek a stay — in effect, a tabling — of their two lawsuits over the city’s April 2017 approval of a new office building between Galena Plaza and Rio Grande Park until after the election.

Voters in the election will choose between the Galena option and an alternate proposal where the city would purchase Hopkins Avenue office space from developer Mark Hunt. 

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Per the settlement agreement, if the Galena option gets the most votes at the polls, the plaintiffs agree to drop their cases and never sue the city again over the matter.

“We believe we have a very thorough and broad prevention for that kind of scenario by these three litigants,” City Attorney Jim True said.

If the Hopkins Avenue option wins, the city agrees to vacate its 2017 approval of the Galena plan before Dec. 10.

True acknowledged that there are some potential outcomes that the settlement does not protect against. If the Hopkins option wins but the deal were to fall apart for some reason outside the city’s control down the road, the city would have to go back through the process to revive the approval for the Galena plan. He added that there is nothing to prevent a new party from mounting a legal challenge to the offices proposal as it stands after Nov. 6.

If the contract with Hunt falls apart before the election, the stay on the lawsuits is lifted and the litigation will continue as it would have without the stay.

A district court judge dismissed one of the cases last month, finding that the plaintiffs did not collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Plaintiffs’ motion to reconsider is pending in that case and it could be appealed, if the case is not ultimately dismissed. Another case challenging the council’s approval of the project is in preliminary stages.

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The ballot language approve by council on Tuesday will read as follows:

“Which proposal for City Office Space Location and Construction do you prefer? (Choose only one.) 

OPTION A: Office space at 517 E. Hopkins Street (sic) and 204 S. Galena Street under contract for purchase and reconstruction, with remodel of City Hall (Project at Former Daily News Building).

OPTION B: Office space at 427 Rio Grande Place and 455 Rio Grande Place approved pursuant to Ordinance No. 4, Series of 2017, with remodel of City Hall (Rio Grande Project).”

True noted that option A’s language originally described the project as the “Hunt Proposal,” but an attorney representing the developer, as well as the lawsuit plaintiffs, requested that Hunt’s name not be on the ballot.

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.

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