Land exchange proposal would give public 19 acres on Shadow Mountain
Aspen voters would have to approve conservation easement on Nov. 2 ballot
The city of Aspen and a local homeowner are close to finalizing a deal that would preserve over 19 acres across Shadow Mountain from any future development and guarantee public access and recreational opportunities.
The Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission approved the proposed land exchange 5-0 earlier this week, and Aspen City Council is scheduled to review an ordinance approving the proposal Tuesday and again during a public hearing Aug. 24.
The deal will have to be approved by Aspen voters on the Nov. 2 ballot, according to Matt Kuhn, the city’s director of parks and open space.
Bob Olson, a developer who owns a home at 501 W. Hopkins Ave. located at next to the Midland Trail, has proposed a land exchange that gives him 4,000 square feet of public-right-of-way around his property.
In return, the city parks department and Pitkin County’s open space program receive 19.3 acres of what’s known as the Pride of Aspen mining claim in perpetuity.
“I think the city and county are getting a deal,” said Ann Mullins, a member of the city’s open space and trails board, which recommended for approval during its Thursday meeting.
The proposed conservation easement includes 841,971 square feet of land that is equal to more than 14 full city blocks, and is more than 210 times that of the land Olson stands to acquire, according to Mitch Haas, a local land use planner.
The additional square footage to Olson’s property will allow better access and more landscaping around the home.
The city’s parks and open space department has been working to secure the parcel for many years with little progress, according to Kevin Rayes, a city planner.
There are some developable areas in the proposed conservation easement, which is why previous owners have been hesitant to work with the city in the past.
Most notably was Aspen’s more infamous resident Hans Gramiger, who owned over 20 acres in the area.
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, Haas said.
When Gramiger died, the 19.3-acre proposed conservation easement 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, according to Haas.
As a result, the Alexanders put the land up for sale, and in 2017 Pitkin County Open Space and Trails offered them $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 home, according to Haas.
Once he learned that the city and county had for decades desired some level of control to the property he now owned, Olson began working with local government.
Olson’s application is asking to create what is known as a planned development overlay, which helps facilitate the proposed land exchange.
The purpose of establishing a PD overlay is to memorialize a building envelope and to prescribe allowable floor area for the property.
The easement extends from Hopkins Avenue to the top of Shadow Mountain and back down its westerly side to and across Castle Creek.
The Shadow Mountain areas between those two ends of the conservation easement are characterized by steep slopes, dense forest and rock outcroppings.
On the opposite end of the conservation easement parcel, there is some flat area along both sides of Castle Creek, which runs through the parcel to the end of South Seventh Street.
The base of the conservation parcel is at 7,940 feet in elevation. The first 100 feet has an area of recognizable piles of mine rock and existing city trail crossings.
The Little Cloud Trail could see improvements to it in the form of realignment, as the current steep grade is a result of development in a nearby subdivision.
“The area we had to reroute was very constricted, and one of the goals of this land swap is with the addition of the Pride of Aspen now realign that Little Cloud Trail and create a much more sustainable and much more user friendly alignment,” Kuhn said.
Aspen Parks and Recreation Director Austin Weiss described the easement as a “scarf draped over the flanks of Shadow Mountain.”
There are some areas on the parcel that could be developed, whether it’s in the city or the county, depending on each jurisdiction’s land use rules.
The conservation easement would prevent development.
“Our concern is that with enough money and enough lawyers that someone could probably make something happen,” Weiss said. “There are some flat areas over by Castle Creek and until a conservation easement is granted on here or until this property comes into public hands and protected by open space, we feel like anything could happen in the future.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Aspen Words’ literary conference and festival is back in-person after a pandemic hiatus and a move from June to autumn.