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Open-space bill advances

Janet Urquhart

State legislation that could curb Aspen’s ability to acquire Smuggler Mountain as open space passed on its third and final reading before the state House of Representatives on Monday.

The more critical vote, however, took place Friday, when lawmakers rejected a motion to remove the controversial “Telluride amendment” from House Bill 1203 by a 35-28 vote.

Rep. Gregg Rippy, the Glenwood Springs Republican whose district includes Aspen and Pitkin County, voted against stripping the amendment from the bill. He voted to approve the bill on Monday; it passed 42-24.

With yesterday’s approval, the legislation will now be assigned to a Senate committee. It requires approval on three readings in the Senate before it lands on Gov. Bill Owens’ desk for a signature.

“The question is, can we strip this Telluride language off in the Senate,” said Sam Mamet, a lobbyist for the Colorado Municipal League, which is fighting the bill on behalf of Aspen and various other CML members. “I think we have a decent shot at removing the language.”

Telluride and Aspen have teamed up to give Mamet some help. Telluride has hired lobbyist Greg Romberg of Evergreen for $15,000; Aspen will chip in $5,000, according to City Attorney John Worcester. Romberg and Associates is a governmental and public affairs consulting firm; it will be working to rally opposition to the amendment in the Senate.

Sen. Lewis Entz, whose district includes Aspen and Pitkin County, will be hearing from Aspen, Worcester predicted.

House Bill 1203 was originally drafted to curb abuses of a municipality’s power of eminent domain for urban renewal – condemning property and then turning it over to private development.

The “Telluride amendment,” retroactive to Jan. 1, would thwart the town of Telluride’s effort to preserve a swath of open space at its entrance. Friday’s vote came one week after the town filed for condemnation of the property, known as the Valley Floor.

The town is trying to force the San Miguel Valley Corp. to sell the 570 acres for somewhere between $20 million and $50 million, according to the Telluride Daily Planet.

The amendment would prevent a municipality from condemning land outside its borders for open space, recreation or similar purposes, unless both the landowner and the government that has jurisdiction over the parcel consent.

In Aspen, the city’s ability to acquire Smuggler landowner George “Wilk” Wilkinson’s property through condemnation could be compromised. The bill would also prevent the city from contributing to the purchase of Smuggler open space, were the county to condemn the land, unless Wilkinson was a willing participant in the condemnation.

In such a “friendly condemnation,” the landowner is willing to sell the property; only the price is in dispute and that issue is relegated to the court.

Wilkinson has been lobbying for passage of the “Telluride amendment.”

Among the lawmakers who voted against stripping the amendment from the bill last week were Rep. Matt Smith and Rep. John Salazar. Both men, along with Rippy, are candidates for the 3rd Congressional District seat to be vacated by Congressman Scott McInnis. The district covers western Colorado.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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