Aspen fights for open-space rights | AspenTimes.com

Aspen fights for open-space rights

Janet Urquhart and Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writers

State legislation that could hamper Aspen’s ability to acquire Smuggler Mountain and other lands outside its borders as open space garnered a quick response from city officials on Tuesday.

The City Council directed its attorney to draft and fire off a letter, signed by Mayor Helen Klanderud, to Aspen’s representative in the Statehouse. It expresses the city’s opposition to House Bill 1203, which could prevent Aspen from acquiring open space through condemnation.

“I did send an e-mail to [Rep.] Gregg Rippy expressing my displeasure,” Klanderud said. Rippy’s district includes Aspen and Pitkin County.

While the council has made no decision to condemn Smuggler landowner George “Wilk” Wilkinson’s landholdings, passage of the bill as currently amended would eliminate that option, said John Worcester, city attorney.

The council met behind closed doors with Pitkin County commissioners and members of both the city and county open space boards to discuss Smuggler on Monday.

The bill that has alarmed local officials was introduced by state Rep. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield. It was intended to prevent local governments from condemning a piece of property and then transferring it to a private entity, according to Sam Mamet, associate director of the Colorado Municipal League, a lobbying organization.

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The bill was conceived, in part, after Arvada condemned a piece of land and passed it on to a developer for use by Wal-Mart, he said.

On Monday, Mitchell offered an amendment to the legislation that bars home-rule municipalities ” of which Aspen is one ” from condemning land beyond their boundaries for certain uses, including parks, open space, recreation, conservation and similar purposes.

The bill, as amended, cleared the House Committee on Information and Technology Monday with a 7-4 vote and is expected to see debate on the House floor within the next several days.

The amendment, effective Jan. 1, also prohibits home-rule municipalities from providing any funding for the acquisition of property through condemnation by another entity.

In other words, if Pitkin County condemned Smuggler for open space, Aspen couldn’t contribute some of the funds to pay Wilkinson for his land, which has been appraised at $8.1 million.

The bill would “severely restrict the ability of home-rule municipalities from not only acquiring lands for parks and other recreational activities, but [from] working cooperatively with counties and other governmental entities to pursue such opportunities for its citizens and guests,” reads the city’s memorandum on the matter.

The city is also questioning why the amendment applies only to municipalities governed by home-rule charters, but doesn’t affect statutorily based cities.

Mamet said the amendment was drafted by lawyers representing property owners in the Telluride area who are facing condemnation of their holdings by the town government. The property owners want to develop the valley floor adjacent to the town; the town wants to preserve it as open space.

“This is special-interest sleaze if I ever saw it. There is an effective date of Jan. 1 of this year. Why? Because Telluride is about to file condemnation action against these property owners, and that is just plain sleaze,” Mamet said.

The amendment doesn’t benefit the public, notes Aspen’s letter, but “appears to be an effort to specifically prevent the Town of Telluride from exercising its constitutional authority to condemn lands for public park and open space purposes.”

Mamet said not a single city or town in the state has expressed support for the amendment.

“There is unanimous opposition to this from all four corners of the state from community leaders,” he said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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