Smuggler deal inches ahead | AspenTimes.com

Smuggler deal inches ahead

Allyn Harvey

The deal to protect much of Smuggler Mountain from development moved forward this week.The Pitkin County commissioners are set to vote Nov. 16 on an ordinance that authorizes the purchase of 170 undeveloped acres from George “Wilk” Wilkinson, according to a public notice about the meeting. If it passes, the ordinance gives the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program permission to spend $15 million to buy Wilkinson’s property, which represents the majority of undeveloped property on Smuggler, used extensively by Aspenites for short hikes, mountain biking and access to the backcountry. The deal, however, hinges on the city of Aspen covering half the cost. One line in the county ordinance makes it clear this is a deal involving open space funding from both Pitkin County and the city of Aspen. “This acquisition shall be for a total price of $15,000,000.00, contingent upon contribution and participation by the City of Aspen of one-half the total purchase price and costs to accept these properties with Pitkin County,” the ordinance states.City and county officials were not available for comment Monday afternoon. When news of the deal first broke on Oct. 21, Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said no contracts regarding Smuggler had been signed. County officials confirmed that a deal was in the works at the time but were not willing to say much more. Smuggler Mountain is the largest undeveloped parcel in the immediate Aspen area. The deal includes all of the mineral and water rights Wilkinson owns. The county has been unwilling to strike a deal with Wilkinson in the past, partly because he has been reluctant to give up all his claims on Smuggler. That he is now selling off all his ownership rights is considered significant.Wilkinson has declined two offers worth millions since becoming Smuggler’s principal property owner in the mid-1980s. In 1994, the county offered him $9.4 million, according to Shellie Roy, a former county commissioner and one of the real estate brokers representing Wilkinson. In 2004 the city offered him $12 million for about 136 acres. Wilkinson balked at both offers – in 2004 he countered with an offer to sell for $21 million.Over the years, the county consistently refused to approve Wilkinson’s development plans, which at one time envisioned a neighborhood filled with high-end homes, as on Red Mountain. The dispute became so heated that at one point in the late 1990s the county commissioners sent in bulldozers and razed a house Wilkinson had built on his land without a permit.The mistrust that has grown over the years remains to this day. One county commissioner told The Aspen Times last week that the deal could be jeopardized by the fact that Wilkinson may not have clear title to two of the parcels. And parties close to Wilkinson expressed dismay that county officials were being publicly evasive about the deal, even though they put down earnest money to get the deal moving.Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com