Judge upholds condemnation of open space

Janet Urquhart

A legal victory in Telluride has bolstered Aspen’s ability to acquire private land on Smuggler Mountain as open space.A district court judge ruled this week that state legislation preventing home-rule municipalities from condemning land outside their borders for open space is unconstitutional, according to a copyrighted report in Thursday’s Telluride Daily Planet.Observers fully expect the ruling to be appealed, but Telluride has apparently won the first round in its legal battle to condemn 570 acres of undeveloped land on its western border, known as the Valley Floor.District Judge Charles Greenacre on Wednesday denied all of Valley Floor owner San Miguel Valley Corp.’s motions to dismiss the town’s condemnation petition, the Daily Planet reported.Greenacre ruled that the Colorado Legislature and House Bill 1203, which it passed last spring, can’t prevent Telluride from condemning land outside its borders as open space.”There is simply no authority for the proposition that the General Assembly may regulate, much less prohibit, a home-rule municipality’s constitutional eminent domain powers,” Greenacre ruled, according to the Daily Planet.”It sounds like it was a very strong affirmation of city home-rule authority,” said Sam Mamet, a Colorado Municipal League lobbyist who fought HB 1203’s so-called “Telluride amendment” on behalf of Telluride, Aspen and other municipalities.”It certainly is a strong indication that what you lose in the court of political opinion, you gain back in the court of legal opinion,” he said.The Telluride amendment is the controversial provision of HB 1203 that prohibits municipalities from condemning land outside their borders for open space, recreation and similar purposes. Critics blasted the amendment as special legislation intended to thwart Telluride’s attempt to condemn the Valley Floor.Condemnation proceedings were already under way in Telluride, but the bill’s amendment is retroactive to Jan. 1.The bill also threw a wrinkle in Aspen’s push to acquire 136 acres on Smuggler Mountain as open space, though the City Council had not agreed to pursue condemnation.The city had been in negotiations with Smuggler landowner George “Wilk” Wilkinson to purchase his property, but at least some City Council members said they were willing to consider condemning the land if necessary.HB 1203 removed condemnation as a possibility and the city ultimately called off talks with Wilkinson after he rejected a $12 million offer from the city.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is