Value of Wilk’s land: $8.1 million | AspenTimes.com
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Value of Wilk’s land: $8.1 million

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

George Wilkinson’s Smuggler Mountain land holdings – long targeted for preservation as open space – are worth $8.1 million, according to a recently completed appraisal.

The Aspen City Council, Pitkin County commissioners and members of the city and county open space boards met last week to review the 3-inch-thick set of documents that constitute an analysis of what Wilk, as he’s known, owns and what it’s worth.

The group met behind closed doors to review the appraisal, prepared by Chase and Co. of Grand Junction. City Attorney John Worcester, who has been pegged to represent local government in its efforts to preserve Smuggler as open space, said elected officials gave him no direction at the meeting.

“Condemnation was not discussed. It was not even on the table,” he said. “The appraisal was prepared to give the city and the county the option of doing that if the community decides to take that route in the future.”

The appraisal will give local governments a starting point from which to negotiate with Wilkinson to acquire the property or attempt to acquire it through condemnation, Worcester said.

The city is sharing the conclusions of the appraisal with Wilkinson through his Denver attorney, Don Ostrander, who could not be reached for comment Friday.

“I haven’t made him [Wilkinson] an offer because I haven’t received authority to make him an offer,” Worcester said.

The council may, however, direct Worcester on how next to proceed when it meets tonight, he said. That discussion will probably occur in executive session.

The bulk of the appraisal has not been made public. Its bottom line – $8,147,500 to be exact – is the value of 136.64 acres for which Wilkinson and related entities or individuals own surface rights. Wilkinson also owns the mineral rights for various mining claims that constitute a total surface area of about 186 acres.

The appraisal concludes Wilkinson’s mineral and water rights on Smuggler are essentially worthless in today’s market, according to Worcester. It’s the development potential of the land that gives it much of its value.

Wilkinson has long battled unsuccessfully with the county to subdivide and develop his land holdings. The county reportedly offered Wilkinson $10 million for his Smuggler property in 2000, a deal that would have let Wilkinson keep a 35-acre parcel for a home of up to 10,000 square feet, as well as his mineral rights.

When elected officials directed Worcester to work on acquiring Wilkinson’s land as open space at the close of 2000, the city attorney received the city’s OK to pursue an appraisal as the first step.

“My first reaction was, what do I offer him? I have no idea what it’s worth,” Worcester said.

The appraisal has been nearly two years in the making and will cost the city $350,000 to $375,000 when all the bills are in, Worcester estimated. The work has involved a slew of experts who were assembled to determine the “highest and best use” of Wilkinson’s Smuggler land and then put a value on it.

The appraisal team included engineers to evaluate the roads and conduct extensive survey work; a law firm to handle the title work; another attorney to evaluate Wilkinson’s water rights; and a mining consultant to assess the value of his mineral rights. A local planner was hired to determine how the property could be developed, given road access, slopes, available water and a host of other factors.

Wilkinson cooperated with the effort, Worcester said.

Local governments and open-space advocates have long expressed a desire to preserve Smuggler as open space, but have never been able to settle on a price with Wilkinson.

“I think that has been a dilemma in the community for as long as I’ve been here,” Worcester said. “Everybody likes the property and would like to purchase it, but nobody knows what it’s worth.”

The mountain rising up on Aspen’s northeast flank is popular with hikers, mountain bikers and nordic skiers. Smuggler Mountain Road sees heavy use by recreationists heading up the mountain or into the Hunter Creek Valley.

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


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