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Let’s make a deal with Wilk

We were pleased to learn recently that the city of Aspen is actively pursuing a deal with George “Wilk” Wilkinson to buy his land on Smuggler Mountain. The controversy between Wilkinson and Pitkin County has been a sore spot in this community for far too long, and a recent $8.1 million appraisal of Wilk’s holdings offers both parties a genuine opportunity.

Last week, the City Council directed City Attorney John Worcester to make Wilkinson an offer for the 136 acres in question. The exact terms weren’t released, but city officials are optimistic about the potential for a meeting of the minds.

Condemnation of Wilkinson’s property is an option for the city, as Wilkinson’s attorney has acknowledged. But Worcester told The Aspen Times that “the council has not discussed condemnation,” and we hope the city won’t resort to that heavy-handed tactic.

At the same time, we hope Wilkinson will listen to reason and work hard to put the matter to rest. Reportedly, Wilkinson rejected a $10 million offer from the county in 2000, a deal that would have allowed him to keep 35 acres for a home of up to 10,000 square feet, along with his mineral rights on other parcels.

Now the city is working from the basis of an $8.1 million appraisal. The fact that it’s the city at the negotiating table is perhaps reason for optimism.

After all, it was Pitkin County that demolished Wilkinson’s home, which was built without proper approvals, back in the mid-1990s. Over the years, as Wilkinson has proposed to subdivide and develop his Smuggler holdings, the county has fought with him in the commissioners’ board room and in the courts. Ill feelings run deeply on both sides.

Without such a burdensome history, maybe the city can make some progress. The city has a dedicated source of funding for open space, as approved by voters in November 2000. And the political will to cut a deal seems strong on the council. However, we would also hope that the county and other land preservation groups would be willing to help financially should a deal be struck.

This also appears to be a credible appraisal, nearly two years in the making at a cost of $350,000 to $375,000 to the city. The appraisal team included engineers, lawyers, mining consultants and planners who worked jointly to determine the “highest and best use” of Wilkinson’s scattered holdings and assign a total value to them. Reportedly, Wilkinson himself cooperated with the effort.

Certainly the public would like to see Wilkinson’s collection of mining claims set aside as open space. Smuggler Mountain Road is one of Aspenites’ favorite “lunchtime” trails, and it’s the preferred route to the beloved Hunter Creek Valley. These negotiations hold the opportunity to put to rest any lingering questions about public access to Smuggler and Hunter Creek.

We urge the city and Wilkinson to negotiate a deal and end this long-running battle.


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