Highest home yet eyed on Smuggler | AspenTimes.com

Highest home yet eyed on Smuggler

Janet Urquhart

A court ruling last week will pave the way for development of what would be the uppermost home yet on Smuggler Mountain, according to a local attorney representing the landowners in the case.Last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of landowners Tulasi Wilkinson and her son, Jaya, allowing them to go forward with the sale of three mining claims on Smuggler to developer Smuggler Ridge Associates, attorney Peter Thomas said.Wilkinson and Jaya obtained title to the three claims, totaling about 30 acres, when Tulasi and George “Wilk” Wilkinson were divorced in 1996. Wilk Wilkinson owns an additional 136 acres on Smuggler and has engaged in his own battles – with Pitkin County – to develop his land.The three claims belonging to Tulasi and Jaya are under contract to Smuggler Ridge Associates for an undisclosed sum. Smuggler Ridge already has a land-use application before the county to construct a house of up to 8,750 square feet on one of the lower claims.The mining claims include two of the lower claims on the mountain that have not already been developed, plus the highest claim on Smuggler, Thomas said. The uppermost bench is visible from town. “Whether a home would be visible there, I just don’t know,” he said.The proposed house would be located up Smuggler Mountain Road from what is currently the uppermost house on the mountain, which flanks Aspen to the northeast.The appeals court ruling resolves a long-standing dispute over the mining claims between the two Wilkinsons and John Sullivan, whom Thomas identified as a multimillionaire Texas developer and former owner of Seven Star Ranch in Owl Creek.Sullivan accused the Wilkinsons of breaching provisions of an option to sell the mining claims to one of his development companies, Thomas said. After a three-day trial in 2002, Pitkin County District Court Judge T. Peter Craven sided with the Wilkinsons. He ruled Sullivan had failed to provide timely notice of his intent to exercise the option to buy the parcels and that the contract had expired. Sullivan appealed.The Colorado Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from attorneys representing both sides in the case earlier this month and issued a Nov. 24 opinion upholding Craven’s ruling. The latest decision should effectively end the dispute, Thomas said.”I think, for practical discussion, it’s dead in the water,” he said.During the protracted legal wrangling, though, Tulasi and Jaya have watched the development potential of their properties – and their value – decline, Thomas said. At the time of Tulasi and Wilk’s divorce, each parcel could have been developed with a home of up to 15,000 square feet, he said.The county is currently considering a new zoning district that would allow a maximum house size of 2,000 square feet on parts of Smuggler, though the Smuggler Ridge development application will be exempt from any downzoning, as it has already been filed with the county.Thomas, who also serves as chairman of the county’s planning and zoning commission, said in a news release that he suddenly finds himself at odds with the county’s efforts to downzone the face of Smuggler.Sullivan’s lawsuit has clouded the Wilkinsons’ title to the property for almost eight years, Thomas said. “Meanwhile, my clients have watched helplessly as the county has continued to downzone their property, stripping away enormous value right out from under them,” he said in the news release.Wilk Wilkinson’s land holdings had been targeted by the city of Aspen for purchase as open space, but negotiations broke off. The three claims owned by Tulasi and Jaya have not been the specific focus of any open space discussions by the city, according to John Worcester, city attorney.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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