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ISSUE #141: ANT ALERT - Taj Mahal City Hall Alternative  6/29/18

"Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage."
                          -- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Please plan to attend a special city council meeting this coming Monday, July 2, at 5p in council chambers to state your opinion on the city's acquisition of 517 E. Hopkins Avenue (the old Aspen Daily News building).
The Red Ant sees this acquisition as a critical component in preventing the city from condemning the open space at Galena Plaza for its plans to build a 37,500 sf edifice to bureaucracy, once and for all.  (See the history of the Taj Mahal City Hall HERE.) 
Thanks to the tireless (and unpaid!!) work of local government watchdogs Toni Kronberg, Steve Goldenberg and Marcia Goshorn, which began in early 2017 with both an abuse of power lawsuit and a referendum petition effort (for the right to vote) to overturn council's land use approvals for the Taj Mahal City Hall, we are now thiiiiis close to actually killing the Taj. 

Kronberg and Goshorn sued the city, citing abuse of council power because the land use approval involves the conversion of open space which must be approved by voters per the city charter (Lawsuit #1). Goldenberg and Goshorn, like so many of us, preferred that the city ask the voters to approve (or disapprove, as the case would likely have been) the land use approvals for the project.  However, fearful of a "no" vote and the ensuing political backlash when they inevitably moved forward anyway, city council - with the exception of Bert Myrin - elected to bypass the voters.  Since there was enormous community support for a vote on these land use approvals, within a remarkable 2.5 day period, 760 petition signatures were collected in opposition to council's decision.   In response to this outcry, the city was quick to deem the petition effort a failure due to "insufficient signatures" and a "missed deadline," however, they were too quick. When challenged in district court (Lawsuit #2), it was determined that the city had erred, and the petitioners prevailed with a procedural victory.  Furthermore, despite the city's request to dismiss it, the abuse of power suit was deemed by the court to have legal standing.  With these rulings, the city had several choices, including putting the issue to a vote (as originally requested), appealing the judge's ruling, or starting over elsewhere.  

The Red Ant is pleased that alternative sites were quickly identified, and thanks to some creative thinking by local developer Mark Hunt, the 517 E. Hopkins parcel was under contract as of June 18.  We are currently in the due diligence period.
Here is why this purchase should be approved post haste:
  • Like it or not, more space for city offices is going to be added to what is currently available at the Armory.  That train has left the station.  The only question is where and at what cost.  517 E. Hopkins is a far better option than the Taj Mahal City Hall.
  • Hunt's plans to develop the 517 E. Hopkins parcel for the city contain the potential for unique space elements (see below) that provide:
    • 517 E. Hopkins                         22,000 sf
    • City Hall (Armory)                   21,000 sf
    • Land Beneath Connor Park      11,500 sf
      • TOTAL                         54,500 sf
  • $23 million is the magic number.  When comparing the 517 E. Hopkins parcel with the planned site for the Taj Mahal on Galena Plaza, $23 million comes up.  But in the case of the Taj, $23 million is only the NEW CONSTRUCTION COST.  $23 million does not include the land value of $7 million.  Whereas, 517 E. Hopkins presents a scrape-and-replace finished construction cost of $13.5 million on top of $9.5 million assessed land value. Total $23 million.
  • Hunt will deliver a finished, two-story city office building, across the street from the current City Hall in the Armory, potentially (but not contingent upon) integrating Connor Park as a public amenity with office space beneath, and connecting 517 to the Armory via a tunnel below Hopkins Ave.
  • Remember, the Taj would be 47' tall on land specifically designated as public open space in 2006.
  • Most notably, the redevelopment at 517 E. Hopkins already has site-specific approval from the City of Aspen, meaning that the shape, style, mass, scale and materials have been approved.  These vested rights are already in place, and that building is going to get built.
  • For our council members who are loathe to weigh what the electorate thinks about the matter when making the decision to purchase (that's you, Steve, Ward, Ann and Adam), rest assured.  The purchase contract is an administrative action, not a legislative one, therefore it prevents a citizens' referendum to force a vote.  In other words, you don't have to worry about a citizens' uproar if you move forward to purchase the 517 E. Hopkins parcel.
  • Besides, Carl Heck likes it, writing to the Aspen Times, "Finally, the new City Hall issue is settled and should make all sides happy! Buying the Daily News building from Mark Hunt solves the problem and eliminates a huge construction project at Galena Plaza. Plus, the future possibility of connecting the building with City Hall and improvements to Connor Park is a great bonus for Aspen."  Indeed.
Let's do this.

Click HERE to see the 517 E. Hopkins parcel's proximity to the Armory, including Hunt's concept.

Of special note: Kronberg, Goldenberg and Goshorn were represented in the two cases by Denver attorney J.D. Porter.  It's such a shame that it takes citizen activism and pricey litigation to reverse council's and the city's tone-deaf and often ill-advised decisions.  But it often does.  To Toni, Steve and Marcia, I salute you.  When you see these three, please thank them.  It is unbelievably hard to fight city hall. But it can be done!  Bravo!!

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