Basalt council unimpressed on proposal for hotel and arts center at Pan and Fork property | AspenTimes.com

Basalt council unimpressed on proposal for hotel and arts center at Pan and Fork property

This drawing shows the location of a proposed hotel next to the Rocky Mountain Institute building as well as a second building with an arts center, restaurant, meeting space and retail. The Basalt Town Council wasn't enthusiastic about the proposal.

Lowe Enterprises' proposal for a 55,000-square-foot condominium-hotel and additional space for an arts center and restaurant received a chilly reception Tuesday night from the Basalt Town Council.

Lowe Enterprises President Jim DeFrancia met with the council in a nonbinding "pre-application" discussion to gauge reaction to a conceptual plan the development firm submitted May 30 on the controversial Pan and Fork property just west of downtown.

DeFrancia left in good spirits but said it was clear the proposal must be reworked.

"I got some meaningful comments tonight," he told the council. "We'll take another shot at it."

In the original proposal, Lowe offered to provide a permanent home for the nonprofit Art Base in a 15,000-square-foot building separate from the hotel. The second building would include 5,000 square feet for a restaurant, meeting space and retail space.

In return for providing that space and a portion of the construction, Lowe wanted the town to write off $2.5 million in funds the town spent to relocate residents, remove mobile homes that were on the property and make part of the site developable. Lowe also wanted a waiver on affordable housing and some building fees.

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Councilman Bernie Grauer said the town cannot surrender its income from building fees. Waiving affordable-housing requirements would be "politically unpopular," he said.

Grauer noted that the town was forced to adopt an austere budget for 2017 to get away from past practices of dipping into reserves.

"I cannot support anything that puts us back in that position," he said.

Grauer also said the town couldn't accept a proposal to forgo public funds for the benefit of the Art Base without first going through a rigorous and transparent assessment. There might be a different, appropriate public use, he said.

"I'm concerned about the size of the 'ask,'" Grauer said.

Basalt resident Steve Chase said the council was "really missing the boat" by dismissing the proposal so quickly. The Art Base is a great community asset that is appropriate for a part of the property designated for community use, he said.

Another aspect of Lowe's plan also fell flat. The company's proposal would require it to buy about 1.3 of 2.3 acres from the current landowner, the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. The remaining 1-acre would be available for purchase by the town to enlarge a park that is in the works. The town already owns adjacent property along the Roaring Fork River.

Councilman Mark Kittle said he interpreted Lowe's proposal to mean Lowe would acquire the 1-acre of parkland and dedicate it to the town. He would only forgo the funds owed for work at Pan and Fork if the town received that 1-acre for park.

"I was willing to say the money we spent over there is water under the bridge," he said.

Kittle said he would prefer to see Lowe do less for the Art Base and pay back more funds to the town instead.

Grauer said he would be willing to write off some of the money the town has spent, such as $1 million, but the town should recover $1.5 million or get the parkland in return.

The other council members present at the meeting had little to add to Grauer's comments. Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle said she wants to see the parkland and development portion split apart so purchases could be pursued separately.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said her position has been consistent in support of 50 percent of the property for park and 50 percent for development.

DeFrancia likened the meeting to an invitation by one party to another to go to dinner. Once they decide if they are going to dinner, he said, they can figure out where and what time. It remains to be seen if the council will accept Lowe's invitation to dinner.

DeFrancia said after the meeting that his team will refine the proposal then seek another meeting with the council for another pre-application consultation.

Editor's note: This story was edited to show the proposal for the Art Base building is 15,000 square feet total, with 5,000 square feet dedicated to a restaurant, meeting space and retail.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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