More critics for open space bill | AspenTimes.com

More critics for open space bill

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

State legislation that would limit Aspen’s ability to acquire open space could see debate in the House today, where Rep. Gregg Rippy said he’ll vote against it unless it can be modified to ease his constituents’ concerns.

The bill is on the House’s schedule today, but that’s hardly a guarantee that the legislation will make it to the floor. The measure needs to be approved on second and third reading in the House before it is sent to the Senate.

House Bill 1203 is under attack by local officials who object to an amendment tacked onto the measure shortly before it was passed in committee on Monday. The amendment would bar home-rule municipalities ” of which Aspen is one ” from condemning land outside their borders for open space, recreation and similar purposes. It would also prohibit home-rule cities from providing funding for the acquisition of property condemned by another entity.

Locally, it would eliminate Aspen’s ability to acquire private lands on Smuggler Mountain as open space through condemnation, or to help finance the purchase of the land if Pitkin County were to pursue it through condemnation. Local governments have identified George “Wilk” Wilkinson’s Smuggler landholdings as an open space priority, though no decision has been made to initiate condemnation proceedings, stressed John Worcester, city attorney.

The city made an undisclosed offer to Wilkinson for his property last year; he turned it down.

“It causes problems specifically for Smuggler Mountain in Aspen,” acknowledged Rippy, a Glenwood Springs Republican whose district includes Aspen and Pitkin County. The legislator said he’s heard from several municipalities in his district that oppose the amendment.

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Rippy said he’s working to tweak the amendment to allow “friendly” condemnations, in which there is a willing seller, but the price is in dispute.

“It’s my understanding that Wilk is a willing participant in the condemnation,” Rippy said. “If we can’t amend it, then no, I don’t support it.”

Rippy’s proposed modification doesn’t go far enough, contends Mayor Helen Klanderud.

“It doesn’t go to the heart of the matter,” she said. “To us, that’s not a satisfactory situation.

“It avoids the basic issue, which is the right of home-rule municipalities to exercise [condemnation powers] to acquire open space.”

The worrisome amendment to the legislation was added late and without public debate by the bill’s author, Rep. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, before the bill was passed with a 7-4 vote by the House Committee on Information and Technology.

Leadville Democrat Carl Miller, who represented Aspen before legislative districts were redrawn, voted for the bill in committee and said he supports the amendment’s intent.

Condemnation should be used to acquire land for roads and other public facilities, he told The Aspen Times on Thursday.

“I don’t see open space as being in that category,” he said. “In my view, that’s a takings.”

Miller said he doesn’t know why the amendment applies only to municipalities governed by a home-rule charter and not statutorily-based cities. He predicted there may be some action to clear up that discrepancy when the bill reaches the House floor.

Tailored to Telluride

Observers contend the amendment is aimed at halting the town of Telluride’s attempt to acquire some 570 acres near its entrance through condemnation. The effective date of the amendment is retroactive to Jan. 1.

Telluride officials, who are also fighting the legislation, contend the bill’s original intent was subverted on its way to the House floor by lobbyists for the San Miguel Valley Corp., which is hoping to thwart Telluride’s bid to condemn the company’s property ” a bucolic swath known as the valley floor ” for preservation.

“The SMVC amendment is obviously targeted at one specific situation, the Town of Telluride’s efforts to condemn portions of the valley floor for open space, recreational and parkland purposes,” according to a prepared statement from Town Manager Jay Harrington, quoted in the Telluride Daily Planet. “This proposal appears to be a self-help measure designed to use the state Legislature to overturn [Telluride’s] home-rule authority to acquire SMVC property for public open space purposes.”

Telluride and SMVC are disputing the value of the valley floor ” the town’s appraisal placed its value at $19.5 million; the company contends it’s worth $48.2 million, according to the Daily Planet.

As originally introduced, House Bill 1203 was more narrow in its focus. It would have prohibited governments from condemning property and then turning it over to a private entity. It also barred the transfer of land acquired by an urban renewal authority to a private party.

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

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