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Telluride condemnation challenged

Janet Urquhart

The owner of open space at the entrance to Telluride is seeking dismissal of the town’s effort to condemn the land.A new state law, opposed by both Aspen and Telluride, gives the Telluride property owner significant legal leverage to end the condemnation threat.Legislation that was recently signed into law by Gov. Bill Owens makes it illegal for a municipality to condemn land outside its borders for open space and similar purposes unless the landowner consents.Both Telluride and Aspen fought the so-called “Telluride amendment” to House Bill 1203 at the Statehouse this spring, but lawmakers approved the measure.Telluride had already commenced condemnation proceedings to acquire a 570-acre parcel known as the Valley Floor, but the amendment is retroactive to Jan. 1.The San Miguel Valley Corp., which owns the Valley Floor, is now seeking dismissal of the town’s push to procure the property, as “the town has no authority to proceed with the proposed condemnation” now that HB 1203 is law. Telluride officials met this week with their condemnation attorney, Leslie Fields, but did not reveal their strategy in light of the latest, albeit anticipated, salvo from SMVC, according to the Telluride Daily Planet.Officials in both Aspen and Telluride, as well as some state lawmakers, anticipate a court challenge to the Telluride amendment.Its retroactive provision is unconstitutional, according to Colorado Rep. John Salazar, who discussed the measure during a recent campaign swing through Aspen. The lawmaker is seeking election to the 3rd District congressional seat to be vacated by U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis.At a town meeting in Telluride on Tuesday, some residents clamored for a court challenge to HB 1203; others urged the Town Council to ask SMVC back to the bargaining table, according to the Daily Planet.Critics have blasted the Telluride amendment as special-interest legislation instigated by SMVC and aimed directly at thwarting Telluride’s efforts to acquire the Valley Floor.The amendment also has implications for the city of Aspen, which hopes to acquire private land on Smuggler Mountain as open space. Condemnation of the land – or contributing financially to the acquisition if Pitkin County condemns the property – is no longer an option for the city under the new law.Smuggler landowner George “Wilk” Wilkinson lobbied in support of the Telluride amendment.Smuggler, rising up on Aspen’s northeast flank, is popular with winter and summer recreationists heading up the mountain or into the Hunter Creek Valley. On a typical day, Smuggler Mountain Road attracts a steady stream of hikers and, during the summer, mountain bikers. The Benedict huts, part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, are located on public land atop the mountain.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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