‘Wilk’ gets closure on Smuggler
December 22, 2005
George “Wilk” Wilkinson probably could have sold his 170 acres on Smuggler Mountain for more than $15 million, but after 20 years of fighting with Pitkin County over development, he said he’d had enough.Wilkinson received two written offers this fall for his property on the hillside on Aspen’s northeast side and two other verbal proposals, said Deborah Goldstein, the listing broker with Frias Properties. But he wasn’t bound to accept any of them, she said.Perhaps surprisingly, Wilkinson wanted to give the local governments the first shot at buying the patchwork of land he started accumulating in the 1970s. Wilkinson and various county officials were often at odds over the past 20 years over his plans for the property. There were shouting matches in public meetings, and countless legal battles.But Wilkinson said from his California home Thursday that the time came to put all that bad blood behind and move on. He wanted to deal with the county to reach something “kind of like closure in that relationship,” said his fiancee, Dr. Sharyn Wynter. She said they wanted to get along with their lives without the stress over the uncertain status of the property.
“I decided the county wasn’t going to allow any development on Smuggler Mountain,” Wilkinson said. The deal that was negotiated provided “at least a reasonable price” for his land.The sale to Pitkin County and the city of Aspen closed Wednesday for $15 million. The land will be preserved as open space.Many people regard it as a monumental deal because the property surrounds Smuggler Mountain Road, a popular hiking, cycling and four-wheeling route. The character would be drastically altered, with McMansions covering the hillside.Wilkinson, who came to Aspen in 1960 and lived there full time through 1995, acknowledged that selling to public entities will leave a nice legacy. The humble and normally softspoken man wasn’t lobbying for public recognition, but when asked if he would like it, he replied that “that would be nice.””I hope the community appreciates the gift part of the transaction,” he said.
Goldstein elaborated. She figured a landowner could earn approval, in time, for seven or eight lots on the 170 acres in Pitkin County’s tough growth-management system. They would have sold for as much as $4 million each. That would gross as much as $32 million.Goldstein said there was give-and-take on both sides to complete the deal. Once the county was convinced Wilkinson had clear title to the land, it was a done deal.Wilkinson said the completion of the deal is very emotional for him. The ashes of his father and brother remain on the mountain, and he has other ties to the land. He declined to discuss details of the long battle with Pitkin County, which included the government’s use of heavy equipment to rip down his home, which it claimed was illegally built.Wilkinson did say the fight affected his health. He is battling an illness, which he would not discuss.
He and Wynter also said Wilkinson’s intentions were misperceived over the years. He never wanted to turn Smuggler Mountain into Red Mountain, which is covered with multimillion-dollar homes. His plan included a significant amount of employee housing, Wynter noted.”It would take too much time to resolve some of the misinformation,” Wilkinson said.Anyway, he’s put that part of the saga behind him.”I would just want to thank everyone involved,” Wilkinson said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org