City on board with Smuggler deal | AspenTimes.com

City on board with Smuggler deal

Janet Urquhart

Aspen and Pitkin County will split the $15 million price to acquire about 170 acres of open space on Smuggler Mountain.The Aspen City Council, meeting Tuesday behind closed doors with the city’s Open Space Board and county officials, agreed informally to put $7.5 million toward the deal. The county has the property under contract for the full $15 million, under the condition that the city participates equally in the purchase.Formal council approval of the allocation is scheduled for Monday, while county commissioners are scheduled to give it their final blessing on Dec. 7. The contract sets a Dec. 12 closing date.The purchase will bring into public hands all of George “Wilk” Wilkinson’s holdings on Smuggler, according to John Worcester, city attorney. In past discussions, he has asked to carve out a site on which he could build a home.The city recently sold close to $15 million in bonds for open space and recreation purposes, which will cover its share of the Smuggler purchase. The bonds will be repaid with sales tax revenues dedicated to that purpose. The county has a property tax dedicated to open space and trails.Smuggler, the mountain rising on Aspen’s northeast flank, is popular with hikers, mountain bikers and others heading up the mountain or into the Hunter Creek Valley.Wilkinson had battled the county unsuccessfully to develop his landholdings, while prior attempts by the county and then the city to acquire it as open space were equally unsuccessful. But Wilkinson, who has been ill, listed the property for sale in August for $15 million, sparking a renewed push from local governments to acquire the holdings asopen space.The purchase will not, however, eliminate all of the remaining private land on the mountain.”We still have some work to do in order to preserve the face of Smuggler Mountain,” Worcester said.”There are other parcels up there. It doesn’t include parts of that mountain that some people may believe are part of this,” Mayor Helen Klanderud said. “This is a substantial step forward.”The city’s most recent offer for Wilkinson’s land was for $12 million. A 2003 appraisal paid for by the city placed its value at $8.1 million, but a broker representing Wilkinson said the appraisal underestimated the property’s development potential, and therefore its value.Klanderud declined to speculate on whether local governments are getting the land at a fair price but said Wilkinson’s asking price wasn’t out of the question.”I think the value is in the fact that the open space will be preserved as open space,” she said. “It’s of very high value for the community.”She also expressed satisfaction that local governments did not resort to condemnation to acquire the land.”There were those who believed that condemnation would be involved to get it. I’m glad it wasn’t,” Klanderud said.Wilkinson is reportedly out of the country and could not be reached for comment.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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