Should a $390K Hahnewald barn move go to Avon voters?
DRAFT BALLOT QUESTION
Here’s an example of a possible ballot question, presented to the Avon Town Council on Tuesday, Dec. 11, with a caveat stating that final numbers are not yet in and there is no standard sample ballot question to offer for a project like the Hahnewald Barn.
“Shall the Town Council proceed with the Hahnewald Barn [Preservation and Reuse??] Project, including relocation of the barn structure to the [old Town Hall site], site preparation, relocation of public utilities, construction of a new foundation, remodeling and finishing of the interior to include a community use room, restrooms, storage rooms, kitchen, elevator and such other ancillary and supporting improvements, installation of HVAC, plumbing, electrical, telecommunications, and such other improvements deemed appropriate, and landscaping and parking as deemed appropriate, for the purpose of providing community meeting and private event space and such other uses permitted by the zoning of the property, for an estimated total cost of $___________.”
AVON — If the town wants to move the Hahnewald family barn, the movers need to know by March 6.
That gives the Avon Town Council enough time to hold a special election on the matter, but an election is not required, and not all council members are in support of sending the issue to the voters.
The barn, a more than 100 year old structure which is currently sitting on the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District’s property, would cost roughly $390,000 to move, a cost that could be absorbed into the town’s annual operating budget.
But the move would be a step toward a much larger spend, a figure that could approach $8 million, which is why some council members want to get the public’s opinion now, before spending more.
The district needs it off its property by June 1, and a plan put together with the help of Anderson Hallas Architects would see the barn moved intact to a temporary location in the parking lot of the building formerly occupied by Town Hall and the police department.
The Avon Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to refer a plan to the Town Council on Jan. 15, in which moving the barn likely would be the first step toward permanently placing it on the site where the former Town Hall building now sits.
The Town Council is then scheduled to meet on Jan. 22, and it could opt to send the issue to the ballot at that meeting, giving staff enough time to prepare the election before the March 6 deadline set by the movers.
At the council’s Tuesday, Dec. 11, meeting, Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes said public comment was welcome at any time, including the meeting scheduled to take place on Jan. 8.
“Anyone who wants to comment … is welcome to come to any of the meetings, whether it’s on the agenda or not,” Smith Hymes said.
The Jan. 8 meeting could include another informal discussion about whether or not the barn question should go to the ballot in advance of the planning commission’s Jan. 15 recommendation to council.
That recommendation will likely be a selection of one of several alternatives presented by Anderson Hallas Architects, who have presented plans to the commission in the $5 million to $7 million range, not including the cost of moving the barn and demolishing the former Town Hall building, which would add another combined $1 million or so to the cost. Anderson Hallas Architects was hired by the town for about $120,000.
While the council could vote to approve the initial costs out of the town’s operating budget, the total spend would likely require Avon to borrow money from a lender.
Those decisions usually require voter approval during a November election according to the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights, but Avon has found a way to enter into large debt obligations without taxpayer approval in the past.
Newly elected council member Tamra Nottingham Underwood, who was sworn in on Tuesday, said she does not approve of holding a special election in addition to the election that would be required in November.
“I think that we would be … embarking on a slippery slope for this council in showing a lack of leadership for our representative government,” Nottingham Underwood said. “If we kick this can to the voters, it’s a breach of duty, in my book … Complying with the taxpayer bill of rights, TABOR, is one thing, but kicking the can to voters on a question we need to decide, and vote it up or down on the merits, that’s our job.”
The special election would probably cost somewhere between $11,000 and $14,000, Town Attorney Eric Heil informed the council in a memo.
The memo also warned council members of the “political precedence” the special election could have.
“It is common for the general public to assume that council would honor the outcome of an election,” Heil wrote. “This assumption by the general public that council would honor the outcome of an election can become complicated and contentious if circumstances change after an election, such as a change in project cost or project details, and then council proceeds with a project that the public perceives does not accurately reflect the details in the ballot question or if council proceeds with a project after the voters have rejected the ballot measure. Referring the matter to a special election may also create a political precedence that projects of similar scope, size and/or cost should be referred to the electorate, even if not legally required.”
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