Aspen 2B: Land swap question on Shadow Mountain goes in a landslide |

Aspen 2B: Land swap question on Shadow Mountain goes in a landslide

Aspen voters in Tuesday’s election overwhelmingly approved ballot question 2B, which puts a permanent conservation easement on 19.3 acres on Shadow Mountain.

Aspen voters approved the question in a 75% to 25% margin, with 1,633 voting yes and 561 voting no.

The easement protects the land, which drapes from the top and around Shadow Mountain to its base on Hopkins Avenue and Seventh Street, from any future development.

It also opens up opportunities to improve and expand recreational opportunities like the Little Cloud and Ajax trails, the alignments of which have been constrained due to private property holdings in the area.

The land exchange comes at no cost to taxpayers, but does give a homeowner on Hopkins Avenue who owned the land on Shadow Mountain additional public right-of-way space.

Bob Olson, a developer who owns a home at 501 W. Hopkins Ave. located next to the Midland Trail, originally proposed the land exchange, which gives him 4,000 square feet of public-right-of-way around his property.

In exchange, the city parks department and Pitkin County’s open space program receive the old mining claim in perpetuity.

Olson wants better access and more landscaping on his property to soften the interface of the heavily used Little Cloud and Midland trails, along with the opportunity for a nominal amount of expansion (360 to 780 square feet, depending on the proposal and land use code regulations) to his 3,450-square-foot house.

The easement, which has been described as a scarf draped over the flanks of Shadow Mountain, is equal to 14 full city blocks and more than 210 times that of the land Olson will acquire.

There was no formal campaign formed in favor or opposed, other than the ballot measure being endorsed by both the city and county open space boards and the ordinance taking it to voters approved by Aspen City Council.

The city parks and open space department and Pitkin County have been attempting for decades to secure the parcel but previous owners were resistant.

Most notably was Aspen’s more infamous resident Hans Gramiger, who owned over 20 acres in the area and had wild plans for a restaurant at the top of the jagged mountain where guests would be whisked up via cable.

Nearly half of that land extended down from the top of Shadow Mountain to the intersection of West Hopkins Avenue and South Seventh Street.

Prior to his passing, Gramiger sold a portion of the land to an adjacent property owner, who also was unwilling to work with local governments to preserve public access rights.

When Gramiger died, the parcel was bequeathed to his heirs, who struggled with ways to separate the parcel from the merged portion, but the other land owner was uncooperative.

In 2017, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails offered the land owners $850,000.

But the offer was rejected and the family sold to Olson, through his company, R.D. Olson Investments II, LLC for $1 million in 2018.

Being the owner of the then under-construction home at the base of the parcel, Olson purchased the land for prophylactic purposes to know that nobody could do or propose anything he might oppose right behind his property.

Once he learned that the city and county had for decades desired some level of control to the property he then owned, Olson began working with local government.

Howie Mallory, vice chairman of the city’s open space board, said Olson saw the long game and the benefits of preservation.

“It was a very fortuitous and beneficial endeavor,” he said on Tuesday night, adding that the challenge in the past has been what the land is appraised at and what developers think it’s worth.

If not for the conservation easement, large homes like what’s being built at the base of Shadow Mountain behind the Aspen Ice Garden would continue up and around the area, similar to the monster homes built into the ridge and mine tailings on the east side of Aspen Mountain off Ute Avenue.

“Given enough time with changing public attitudes and abilities to not remember things from the past it’s invaluable and I think the public will see the real benefit of the bookends of town with (Smuggler Open Space) and Shadow Mountain preserved,” Mallory said.


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