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Open space bill resurfaces

Janet Urquhart

State legislation that would limit Aspen’s ability to condemn land as open space resurfaced Monday during debate before a House committee.

House Bill 1203 was stripped of various amendments – including the one that Aspen found objectionable – earlier this month during debate on the floor. It was sent back to the House Committee on Information and Technology.

During that committee’s deliberations Monday, language to limit what’s called “extraterritorial condemnation” was again proposed for inclusion in the bill.

Tom Ragonetti, a tenacious Denver land-use attorney who represents an affected property owner in Telluride, urged its inclusion, according to Sam Mamet, a lobbyist with the Colorado Municipal League.

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Mamet expects the committee to vote on the reworked bill today.

Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland was on hand to testify against the provision. Ireland said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, intended to drop his support for the amendment pertaining to open space condemnation.

“While Ragonetti spoke in favor of the amendment, Mitchell made it clear that he no longer supported it because it had provoked too much opposition and distracted from the intent of the legislation,” Ireland said.

In its original version, an amendment to the bill prohibited home-rule municipalities – of which Aspen is one – from condemning land outside their borders for open space, recreation and similar purposes. It also barred them from contributing financially to the acquisition of land outside their boundaries through condemnation.

Most notably, the measure jeopardized Aspen’s ability to acquire private land on Smuggler Mountain as open space.

The new stab at the amendment expands its application to all municipalities, not just home-rule governments. It contains the same prohibitions, but provides an exemption. Such condemnations would be permitted when the landowner whose property is to be condemned and the government in which the property is located consent to the condemnation proceedings.

A property, however, might be located within any number of special taxing districts, Mamet pointed out.

“How many governing bodies do you have to go to to get approval? It can get complicated,” he said. “All you need is one of these entities to say ‘no’ and you can’t do it.”

Mamet is fighting for the bill’s defeat on behalf of various Colorado Municipal League members, including Aspen.

The latest version of the bill’s amendment regarding open space condemnations is unacceptable, said John Worcester, Aspen’s city attorney.

“It continues to be a direct attack on home-rule authority under the powers of the constitution,” he said. s

In it’s first go-round, the bill was blasted by opponents as special-interest legislation aimed specifically at preventing the town of Telluride’s attempt to condemn open space at its entrance, known as the valley floor.

Ragonetti represents the San Miguel Valley Corp., which owns the property.

“As much as they protest that it’s not special-interest legislation, it is,” Worcester said. “It’s directed at the town of Telluride’s power to condemn extraterritorially for open space purposes.”

The proposed legislation would be retroactive to Jan. 1 – a provision critics note is necessary to thwart the Telluride condemnation. Sponsors of the newly drafted amendment contend the retroactive date is necessary to prevent a rush of condemnations by municipalities.

The latest version of the open space amendment is sponsored by Rep. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and co-sponsored by Rep. Carl Miller, a Leadville Democrat who represented Aspen and Pitkin County before legislative districts were redrawn.

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


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