Aspen’s historic Smuggler Mine has drawn interest from more than a dozen potential buyers since it went on the market for $9.5 million last June, but not from Pitkin County’s open space program.
The nearly 30-acre property has been shown to 14 potential buyers, said broker Matt Holstein of Sotheby’s International Realty, all of them with an eye toward building homes on two developable lots there.
“We’ve had no formal offers, but we have had discussions about pricing,” Holstein said.
The property includes two 10-acre lots and the mine site.
The Pitkin County Open Space program has not expressed interest in buying and preserving the property.
“I would hope some of that could be preserved,” open space director Dale Will said of the historic mine. “But we haven’t really thought seriously about acquiring that parcel.”
While it is adjacent to the popular hiking area of Smuggler Mountain Road, Will said it’s not an ideal open space purchase because of its price, because homes there would be accessed from an existing driveway, and because it is low enough on the road that it’s situated in what Will called “the urban fringe.” There are many homes built further up the mountain, he noted, with driveways off of Smuggler Mountain Road.
The county department has included mining history in the interpretive signage installed throughout the adjacent Smuggler Open Space area in recent years. But Will said they would not pursue turning the mine site into a public attraction. The program has branched out a bit into historic preservation efforts, most notably with the Emma townsite downvalley, purchased in 2008, but the majority of its purchases and work focuses on conserving land, expanding public access and protecting open spaces from development.
Along with two lots for new homes boasting rare views of the city and Aspen Mountain, the Smuggler property includes access to millions of dollars in silver ore inside the mine, which boasts having produced the world’s largest silver nugget in 1894.
The potential buyers have all been interested in building homes on the site, Holstein said, but none looking to mine silver there or continue its use as a public attraction. The prohibitive cost of extracting the silver has left the mine dormant since 1920, but it is open for tours and its owner, the New Smuggler Mining Corp., holds a mining permit.
The 14 interested parties included one mining buff, Holstein said, but the property’s historic qualities have mostly drawn concern from potential buyers. They’ve anticipated headaches and jumping through Pitkin County land-use approval hoops for the prominent and historic property.
“That’s pretty good action on a listing of this kind of property that’s somewhat unique,” he said of the steady stream of interest. “What’s of concern to buyers is how the city and county would react to any development proposal.”
Because they are situated in unincorporated Pitkin County, the two lots could host homes of up to 15,000 square feet, with the use of transferable development rights. But any development proposals for the parcel are likely to include historic preservation requirements.
The mine site is on the National Register of Historic Places, though the restrictions that come with that designation pertain only to the tailings piles outside of the mine. The designation does not include the mine itself or the rustic-looking buildings and equipment scattered about the property.
“Home sites in those kinds of locations, with those kinds of views, is incredible,” Holstein said. “But it’s also hard to get those kinds of development applications through.”
Holstein said the sellers hope for some of the site to be preserved by its future owner.