Voters reject council’s decision to move Avon barn to town core

By nearly an 8-to-1 margin, taxpayers rebuke $1.6M plan to relocate barn intact

File photo: Avon town clerk Brenda Torres, right, counts survey ballots in April 2019. A survey designed to replicate a special election turned out 995 voters.
Chris Dillman | Vail Daily

AVON — Residents have turned down an idea to move the 110-year-old Hahnewald barn to a new location in the town core for a cost of $1.6 million.

In a town survey that was designed to mimic an election and wrapped up on Tuesday night, more than 700 votes against the idea had been tallied as final results were coming in at about 9:30 p.m., while less than 100 votes had been recorded in favor of the idea.

The idea to move the barn was approved by town council on Feb. 12 and met with controversy from the community. The council approved a survey in March and ballots were sent out to registered voters the week of March 11.

While several considerations were taken to ensure the survey had the look and feel of a special election — including a signature required field and secrecy sleeve on the ballot — the town was not required to follow official election procedures.

However, the town took other measures to mock an election, as well. Acting Town Manager Preston Neill asked Catherine Hayes with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District to serve as a designated election official and — after some protest — Neill also allowed observers behind the glass walls on Tuesday where the ballots were being counted by himself, Hayes and Town Clerk Brenda Torres.

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Move mired in controversy

The idea to move the Hahnewald barn to the location now occupied by the former town hall and police station building in Avon’s Harry A. Nottingham Park area has been met with controversy since its inception.

During the 2018 election, candidates Chico Thuon and Tamra Underwood expressed differing opinions on the barn, with Underwood passionately in favor of moving the barn and Thuon staunchly against. They were both elected to council, where their views were expressed in their votes on the issue. When the decision to fund the barn move came before council in February, Thuon, Jake Wolf and Scott Prince voted against it, while Underwood, Amy Phillips, Jennie Fancher and Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes voted in favor of it.

The narrow 4-3 vote at the council level was not reflected in the early returns on the survey, which were showing a ratio of nearly 8-to-1 against the barn move as of 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

While the survey does not bind the town to a decision, the council is expected to examine and, most probably reverse, the Feb. 12 decision at their regularly scheduled meeting on April 9. Other options for the barn are expected to be discussed at that meeting.

“We have a decision on the table to move forward with the barn, and I feel like we need to move to rescind that decision, or change that decision, on the ninth,” Smith Hymes said. “I expect that on April 9, what the ultimate involvement of the town of Avon is with the barn (will be decided), whether that is just walking away from that, or if someone on council is going to recommend the first thing we thought about, which was simply dismantle the barn and save it to try to rebuild it or reconstruct it at a future date.”

The survey cost nearly $6,000 to mail out, Neill said, along with several hours in staff time to organize and count.

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