Aspen City Council last week corrected a “scrivener’s error” in a ballot question concerning the site for new city offices, bringing joy to copy editors and sticklers for cartographic detail.
The language approved by council last Monday, which will ask voters to give their preference between building on city-owned land on Rio Grande Place or purchasing space from developer Mark Hunt, referred to one of the two Hunt properties on the table as 517 E. Hopkins Street.
Astute observers of the proper names of public rights of way in Aspen will note that Hopkins Street does not exist. The ballot question actually refers to Hopkins Avenue, which, like nearly all the main east-west thoroughfares south of Main Street in Aspen, is called an avenue. (For some reason this does not apply to Dean Street, and all the east-west roads in the West End north of Main are streets.)
City Attorney Jim True acknowledged that City Clerk Linda Manning pointed out the error in the rushed process from the prior week to draft the ballot language proposal. But “we kinda plowed through without fixing it,” True acknowledged at a special council meeting on Thursday. The meeting was called to pass amended ballot language with the correct street name. It was only the week prior when council provided direction to move forward with a ballot question asking voters to decide between two options, after Hunt agreed to give the city more time to act on his proposed contract.
The mistake was pointed out again after Monday’s meeting, when council officially adopted the ballot language and the framework for settling a lawsuit brought by citizens seeking the public vote. With the final language not due to the county clerk until Friday, True said he decided to call the special meeting and fix what he termed a “scrivener’s error.”
True said the he was not concerned that a legal challenge could arise after the election if the language wasn’t fixed.
“I believe that the law is well settled that this type of discrepancy — a scrivener’s error or typo — is not relevant if it is clear what is intended and there is no real basis to believe there would be confusion,” True wrote in an email. “Since … there is no Hopkins Street, confusion is unlikely. If this were Atlanta and we were building on Peachtree, the issue would be different given there are 71 versions of Peachtree streets [in the Southern state capital]. That is just not the case here.”
Councilman Bert Myrin suggested that, instead of changing the ballot language, the council could just rename all streets as “streets,” since that is what everyone calls them anyway, he said. Council members did not take up Myrin’s suggestion, and True pointed out that changing a street name requires its own formal process.
Many would note that the confusion between streets and avenues in Aspen is rooted in history. A classic dive bar on Cooper Avenue, which about 10 years ago was redeveloped into a new building containing a high-end clothing retailer and luxury residence, was called the Cooper Street Pier for some four decades. The incorrect street name is still commonly used.
Also at Thursday’s special meeting, the council approved another tweak to the offices vote ballot language. The option to purchase office space from Hunt was summed up in a parenthetical as the “Former Daily News Building,” as the site at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. was for 25 years the home to this newspaper, prior to our relocating our offices to 625 E. Main St. in 2015. Council members agreed that it would be more grammatically correct to lowercase “former.”
The ballot question language, to be decided in the Nov. 6 election, now reads:
“Which proposal for City Office Space Location and Construction do you prefer? (Choose only one.)
OPTION A: Office space at 517 E. Hopkins Avenue 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).”