County taking `Wilk’ to court | AspenTimes.com

County taking `Wilk’ to court

Jeremy Heiman

Pitkin County has made a legal move in its chess game with Smuggler Mountain landowner George M. “Wilk” Wilkinson.

The county filed a lawsuit Friday in District Court in Pitkin County, asking the court to declare that Wilkinson has no claim to the parking lot at the base of the Smuggler Mountain Road. The suit also attempts to force Wilkinson to remove all the vehicles parked on the site, known as the Mollie Gibson property.

Wilkinson has said he keeps the parking lot occupied to maintain a claim to mining tunnels nearby. He said he has been parking vehicles there since 1987. The suit claims Wilkinson collects rent from owners of some of the vehicles parked in the lot.

As of yesterday, the lot contained a school bus, passenger bus, three vans, a four-wheel-drive vehicle, a compact pickup, a pickup camper, and an Eagle passenger car.

Assistant County Attorney Debby Quinn warned in December that Friday’s legal action was coming. The parking lot has been the subject of complaints in the neighborhood because a number of people have allegedly been camping in some of the vehicles.

In the suit, the county says Wilkinson has no claim to the property, and the parking lot is only intended for short-term parking. It further asserts that even if Wilkinson can prove his claim to the property, he doesn’t have the permits or approvals from the county to use the property for long-term parking and camping.

The suit says the county is entitled to an injunction that would prohibit Wilkinson from using the property for long-term parking, and it asks the court to settle the question of who has rights to the property once and for all.

Wilkinson said Monday evening he had not been served with a copy of the suit. He again asserted that he has the right to use the property by virtue of the fact that he owns the nearby Smuggler Mine tunnel.

Tunnel rights, he said, allow him access below ground to anything within 750 feet of the tunnel, and give him the right to store vehicles and just about anything else in a 500-square-foot area with the tunnel portal at its center. The portal of the tunnel was buried in the 1980s when the Centennial apartment project was built.

“The tunnel being buried doesn’t give any rights away,” Wilkinson said yesterday. He said his tunnel and shaft rights are exceptions to the county’s claim to the property.

“That’s been in existence since the late 1800s, and reaffirmed in several court cases along the way,” he said. He said during the late 1980s, the county wasn’t making any claim to the property.

“It’s interesting to note that nobody wanted that property when it was in the EPA Superfund site,” Wilkinson said. “That’s when I bought all of Smuggler.”

The Pitkin County Road and Bridge Department has put up “No Overnight Parking” signs at the lot in the past, but those signs were repeatedly taken down.


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