Controversial partner withdraws from project in Aspen’s Maroon Creek Valley |

Controversial partner withdraws from project in Aspen’s Maroon Creek Valley

A controversial mining magnate has bailed out of a development project in the Maroon Creek Valley that turned into a nasty public relations battle for his company.

Robert Friedland is no longer associated with Celestial Land Co., according to Jack Kaufman, an Aspen representative of the development firm. “He has sold his interest,” he said.

Friedland drew attention to a run-of-the-mill land-use fight because of his past. He was a major shareholder in a company that pulled gold from the Summitville Mine in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains in the 1980s and ’90s. The company was accused by the state and federal governments of polluting the environment. Friedland agreed to contribute $20.7 million to the clean-up effort, but he continues to dispute his level of responsibility for the environmental disaster. Environmentalists labeled him “Toxic Bob” for his role.

Friedland emerged as a player in Celestial Land Co., which bought a portion of the T Lazy 7 Ranch from the Deane family in 2006. Celestial sold most of the land it purchased, but kept 35 acres and applied to build a 15,000-square-foot house, a caretaker unit, two sheds and a “bathing facility” about one-half mile from the historic guest ranch. The project is dubbed “The Eagle’s Nest” in Celestial’s land-use application.

The adjacent landowners in one of Aspen’s wealthiest neighborhoods objected to the project on environmental grounds. Tom and Margot Pritzker, whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, said in documents submitted to the county that Celestial’s proposed house is in a hazard area where debris has spilled down a gulch three times in the last eight years. They are concerned the construction of the new house could affect their property. Four other homeowners in the area have expressed similar concerns.

As word of Friedland’s involvement in the project became known, members of his team expressed concerns that public sentiment and Pitkin County officials might focus on personalities rather than the merits of the issue. Celestial appears to have eliminated that concern with Friedland’s sale of his share in the company.

No information was offered on why Friedland sold his interest in Celestial. Kaufman said he couldn’t disclose the identities of the other owners. He said Friedland’s sale was legitimate and not a maneuver to shield a continued interest in the company. Property ownership by individuals is often difficult to ascertain because of the creation of a limited liability company.

“There’s no funny business,” Kaufman said.

He said he was “disappointed” when he learned last week that Friedland sold his interest in Celestial. Friedland “gave vision to a pretty cool home,” he said.

The house is built into a hillside and designed to look significantly smaller than 15,000 square feet, according to Kaufman.

“It’s not one of those drive-up, look-at-me kind of French chateaus,” he said. “I don’t think any part of it will be visible from Maroon Creek Road.”

Nevertheless, the project faces extensive opposition as it nears an important hearing Sept. 15 in the Pitkin County review process.

Celestial Land Co. invited the neighboring property owners to a meeting and cocktail gathering at Aspen Highlands on Thursday to discuss recent refinements to the project.

Kaufman said the location of the house has been changed, and a storage basin will be created on the property to contain debris flowing from the gulch. Celestial proposed to excavate a 16,000-square-foot area to catch future debris flows. The result, Kaufman said, is no off-site impacts from the development.

Pitkin County is relying on the Colorado Geological Survey to help gauge the legitimacy of Celestial’s plan.

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