Smuggler purchase a done deal
The largest and likely most anticipated open space acquisition in local history closed Tuesday with the inking of a $15 million deal on George “Wilk” Wilkinson’s Smuggler Mountain property.The purchase brings all of Wilkinson’s holdings on Smuggler – roughly 170 acres – into public hands. The city of Aspen and Pitkin County acquired the property jointly. Other open space purchases in the past may have cost more per acre, but Dale Will, head of the county’s Open Space and Trails program, said he could think of no other single open space purchase for a greater sum.”This is a biggie,” said County Commissioner Patti Kay-Clapper. “This is a huge purchase for a community such as ours.”The county open space program, funded through a property tax, will exhaust most of its cash reserves with the purchase. The city’s share will come from money it has borrowed against sales tax revenues dedicated to open space.”The voters have bought this for themselves,” Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said.Along with Tuesday’s completion of the Smuggler deal, the county completed its purchase of the B&M Lode mining claim from the Harley Baldwin estate. The land holds the popular observation deck, better known as “the platform,” overlooking Aspen from a perch on Smuggler.Other private parcels on Smuggler remain; they are targeted for acquisition, as well.”Rest assured, all the private land up there, we have feelers and communications with the owners,” Will said.But the deal with Wilkinson brings to a close a long and contentious battle over the prospect of homes on the upper reaches of Smuggler.”The bobs and weaves have been over about 18 to 20 years,” said former County Commissioner Shellie Roy, a real estate broker who co-listed the property. “Wilk won a lawsuit against the county in the mid-’80s that gave him 84 units on Smuggler Mountain. That’s when the fun began.” The prospect of homes on the mountain flanking Aspen’s northeast side, and the threat of curtailed public use of the popular recreational area, have been sore spots with the community for nearly two decades. Battles in the courts and in the commissioners’ boardroom have centered on everything from use and ownership of Smuggler Mountain Road to zoning and development rights. When tenants in makeshift homes began calling Wilkinson’s land home, the county kicked them off.At one point, the county also bulldozed Wilkinson’s home, built without proper approvals. “Wilk basically said to the county, you don’t have the right to extract fees and permits,” Roy said. “So he built his home and the county said, ‘Yes, we do,’ and tore it down.”Wilk believed strongly that government should not interfere with private property, Roy said. “Wilk always wanted to do the right thing,” she said. “He talked a lot about affordable housing. He always wanted to be a member of the community, not at odds with the community, but he wanted to do it on his terms.”Wilkinson’s collection of mining claims has long been on the radar for local open-space advocates. The road winding up its face is the preferred route into the Hunter Creek Valley and a popular workout for hikers and mountain bikers.Wilkinson rejected previous purchase offers from the county or city; local governments likewise turned down counteroffers from Wilkinson.”The truth is, I was once the buyer,” Roy said, referring to her tenure as a commissioner. “I knew what the seller had to have. I was able to find a way that both sides could get what they wanted and win on this. Usually you’re not in this lucky position. For me, it’s one of the things I’ve wanted for years, and I’m very relieved for Wilk because this brings closure for him.”I’m ecstatic,” she said. “I can’t believe it finally happened.”Wilkinson, who could not be reached for comment, did not attend Tuesday’s closing but was represented by his attorneys. He is reportedly ill.Janet Urquhart contributed to this report. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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