Strike the ‘Telluride amendment’ from HB 1203 |

Strike the ‘Telluride amendment’ from HB 1203

Gregg Rippy, Aspen’s ambitious representative in the state House of Representatives, has voted to curtail the city of Aspen’s ability to preserve Smuggler Mountain through condemnation. The Glenwood Springs Republican apparently doesn’t think Aspen should have the right to condemn areas beyond the city’s borders, even if they’re a critical part of the community’s character.

The legislation Rippy and other House members passed Monday is HB 1203. Rep. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, drafted the bill after the city of Arvada tried to condemn a lake in an office development so it could be filled and used as parking lot for a Wal-Mart Superstore.

Mitchell’s bill would have been a reasonable restriction, preventing condemnation of one landowner’s property simply so the government can pass it to another (who would happen to generate more sales tax revenue). Unfortunately, legislators added an amendment that would severely restrict cities’ ability to condemn open space outside their boundaries.

Condemning a lake for Wal-Mart may feel like the same thing as condemning a mountainside for open space, but it’s not. Certain pieces of property help define a community, and Smuggler is just such a property.

Located just outside the city limits, Smuggler Mountain Road is arguably Aspen’s favorite walking trail, and it provides an easy-access portal to the backcountry. Smuggler Mountain also quiets the town visually, a natural counterbalance to the heavy development on Red Mountain.

Over the years, both Pitkin County and the city of Aspen have made sizable offers to owner Wilk Wilkinson to secure his Smuggler holdings as open space. Given the slim chance that Wilkinson will ever be allowed to develop Smuggler to the level he desires, his refusal to accept millions of taxpayer dollars is bewildering.

Condemnation would allow the city or county to force a sale under which Wilkinson would get fair market value and Aspenites would preserve a community gem.

HB1203 would prohibit such a condemnation. But the most disturbing aspect of the legislation is that it seems to be written to deal with a single property owner, the San Miguel Valley Corp., and a single municipality, Telluride.

Telluride has started condemnation on about 570 acres at the entrance to town owned by San Miguel Valley Corp. for between $20 million and $50 million, according to the Telluride Daily Planet.

In debate last week, legislators who support the amendment ripped into Telluride’s effort, characterizing it as a “taking.” They’ve written the amendment to be retroactive, thereby undoing the condemnation proceedings Telluride initiated last month.

If there was ever special-interest legislation, this is it. The state Senate should remove the misguided “Telluride amendment,” then pass this bill in its original form.