Backers asking Aurora lawmakers to strike race-track, entertainment district prop from November ballot

A special city council meeting has been called for Thursday in advance of a deadline to remove a controversial ballot question asking Aurora voters to approve a special "entertainment" district on the city's eastern border, property speculated to draw a possible NASCAR track to the city

AURORA | Backers will ask the city council Thursday to remove a referendum from the November ballot that would create a special district on the city’s east side intended to lure a NASCAR racetrack or some other big entertainment complex.

Proponents say a faltering campaign to persuade voters to approve the measure, currently set for the November city ballot, prompted them to ask Mayor Steve Hogan to call a special council meeting Aug. 31  in advance of a deadline to strike the ballot question.

Hogan said the meeting was called for this week because the deadline to remove the entertainment question from the ballot is  just four days before the next regularly scheduled meeting next month.

We are facing a deadline of September 7th to consider any action,” Hogan said via email Monday night, “and obviously, there is no other scheduled meeting until September 11th.”

Hogan called the meeting at the request of councilwoman Sally Mounier — a chief sponsor of the measure that would end a ban against the city from cooperating with a possible race track project — who said a family emergency among those championing the measure has prevented a solid campaign.

Mounier said if she is re-elected this November she plans to run the ballot question in 2019.

The city council approved the ballot measure in June despite public and internal criticism, and Aurora prevailed after a subsequent lawsuit challenged the legality of ballot question language.

Some critics of the measure said it could be taken off the ballot because a campaign to educate and persuade voters never materialized.

The measure calls for the removal of language from the city’s charter that bars officials from offering financial incentives to racetrack facilities.The question seeks to allow officials to pursue the development of a massive “entertainment district” on the city’s eastern plains by striking nearly 20-year-old language from the city’s charter, which prevents local leaders from offering tax breaks to a potential NASCAR-style speedway.

Plans for a racing facility would be limited to a currently blank swath of land north of Interstate 70 and east of Hudson Road, according to the ballot language. A development would also be blocked from setting up shop within a half mile of any property in a residential zone.

Mounier, who is spearheading the initiative, has pointed to a 1,700-acre parcel of city-owned land relatively near the nexus of I-70 and Hudson Road, as a possible home for the multiplex.

The potential project has regularly been compared to a racing and entertainment complex outside of Kansas City, Kansas.

City officials have underlined that they have not been in contact with any potential raceway developers. The ballot question would merely give city staffers the option to begin those discussions.

Council members Barb Cleland, Charlie Richardson and Marsha Berzins were critical of the measure, saying it was rushed through the approval process and circumvented opportunities for public input.

The ballot question was introduced and gained initial approval on a single night earlier this summer.

This year’s push to slash the prohibition on racetrack incentives in Aurora marks the third such effort in the city since citizens voted to add it to the charter in 1999.

In the ensuing two decades, city officials have consistently claimed racetrack developers from Colorado Springs helped sway the vote in 1999 in order to prevent a potential speedway in Aurora from directing auto-racing dollars away from El Paso County.

The most recent effort to change the city charter failed by slightly more than 1,000 votes in 2015.

In July,  an Arapahoe County judge ruled in favor of the city, shooting down the challenge to the racetrack development question.

Opponents of the measure had argued it violated the state’s “single Issue” ballot measures and was too broad and confusing.

A statement from plaintiffs, “Aurora Residents for Transparency,” which opposes the ballot measure and brought the legal challenge, chided Arapahoe County District Court Judge John Wheeler for siding with the city, paving the way for voters to decide the issue this fall.

Wheeler heard several hours of testimony on the challenge last week. Lawyers representing the city argued that the measure did not violate the city’s charter regarding election rules, and prevailing lawyers pointed to other similar ballot language in other cities.