GREEN LIGHT: Aurora city council OKs ballot measure calling for massive entertainment district, possible racetrack

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AURORA | Despite a bevy of complaints from several local residents, Aurora city council members Monday night officially agreed to ask the city’s voters to consider a ballot measure calling for the removal of language from the city’s charter that bars officials from offering financial incentives to racetrack facilities.

Passed by a vote of 7-3, the proposed measure 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. Council member Sally Mounier, who is spearheading the initiative, on Monday night 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 will merely give city staffers the option to begin those discussions.

Council members Barb Cleland, Charlie Richardson and Marsha Berzins rejected the ordinance Monday night, claiming the proposed measure was rushed through the approval process and circumvented opportunities for public input.

The measure was introduced and gained initial approval on a single night earlier this month.

Nearly a dozen people spoke against the proposed measure during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, most of whom denounced the lack of transparency in the city’s approval process.

At least one man, Russ Wagner, a candidate for one of the city’s up-for-grabs city council seats this fall, championed the measure, saying it would be a boon for Aurora’s already robust automotive community.

Before the entertainment district measure went to a final vote Monday, Councilwoman Renie Peterson successfully introduced an amendment that tweaked language pertaining to the possible use of public funds in the potential district. Passed on an 8-2 vote, the amendment clarifies that only public funds generated from within a potential entertainment complex can be used to subsidize development there.

Council members Richardson and Berzins rejected the amendment.

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 her closing remarks Monday night, Cleland hinted that the lingering issue of racetrack incentives in the city has proved to be particularly vitriolic among members of city council.

‘This council has been very divided on this issue,” she said. “There have been comments made to other council members that, in my mind,  are totally and completely inexcusable. I would hope that we can put this issue aside and, please, act like adults and start acting as a team of elected officials.”