Basalt developer asks town to forgo seeking reimbursement of $2.5M | AspenTimes.com

Basalt developer asks town to forgo seeking reimbursement of $2.5M

A company with a proposal to build a condominium hotel at the Pan and Fork site in Basalt wants the town government to forgo seeking reimbursement of $2.5 million in public funds spent preparing the property for development.

Lowe Enterprises president James DeFrancia said he isn't asking for a public subsidy. Instead, he wants the town to trade the $2.5 million in return for his company helping build a home for the nonprofit Art Base community art center.

If the town insists on recouping the $2.5 million, Lowe would oblige and rescind or reduce its assistance of the Art Base, according to DeFrancia.

"I would tell the Art Base, 'Since I'm doing that, guys, sorry, I can't build the building,'" he said.

“The CDC never agreed to pay any of the $2.5 million. It all depended on development.”

— Michael McVoy, landowner representative

Lowe has an option to buy about 2.3 acres of land at the Pan and Fork site owned by Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. The development firm unveiled a proposal Tuesday to build a 55,000-square-foot condominium-hotel adjacent to the Rocky Mountain Institute Innovation Center.

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A separate building of 15,000 square feet would be constructed to the east of the hotel. It would house the Art Base, a 3,000-square-foot restaurant, a public meeting space of about 1,500 square feet and a 500-square-foot retail space.

The Art Base would have roughly 10,000 square feet for gallery space, workshops, meeting space and administrative offices.

Lowe is proposing to dedicate the art center site to the Art Base. Lowe would cover a portion of the construction cost, with the nonprofit being responsible for the balance.

"In exchange for dedication of the Art Base site, infrastructure improvement of that site and contribution to construction of that facility, the town would waive any affordable-housing obligations, waive certain fees associated with the development and forgo any reimbursement of prior town expenditures for earlier site improvements associated with removal of the Pan and Fork trailer park," Lowe's proposal letter to the town government says.

This isn't the first time Lowe has linked what some people would consider an essential public facility to a development application. Lowe is a partner in the proposed Gorsuch Haus hotel in Aspen. The replacement of the antiquated Lift 1A on Aspen Mountain is contingent on that hotel getting approved.

In Basalt, town officials previously said they spent roughly $1 million relocating residents of the mobile home park and removing the residences. Another $1.5 million was spent getting utilities to the Roaring Fork CDC site, and hauling in dirt and rock to raise it above the floodplain.

Some town officials have said it is a priority to recoup some of those funds.

Lowe is simply trying to help the Art Base secure a long-term future, DeFrancia said. If the Town Council wants reimbursement of some or all of the funds instead, Lowe will adjust its proposal.

"I consider that to be an open question," DeFrancia said.

Roaring Fork CDC board of directors President Michael McVoy had a different take on the issue. He said there never was a written contract for the firm to repay the town for any funds spent on CDC's property. Town officials made the decision to undertake the relocation of the mobile home park residents on their own, though Roaring Fork CDC endorsed the move, he said.

The town unilaterally undertook the effort to get utilities to the CDC site, which is closest to Two Rivers Road, according to McVoy.

While there wasn't a contract, there was an understanding that any reimbursement for the town's work would be made as part of a development.

"The CDC never agreed to pay any of the $2.5 million," McVoy said. "It all depended on development."

"We don't have money. We certainly don't have $2.5 million dollars," McVoy added.

In addition, CDC played a vital though little known role in helping get residents relocated, McVoy said.

"CDC brought to the table the private party that contributed $1 million" to the relocation effort, he said. Those funds were available in low interest loans to get residents resettled in other homes.

"CDC brought to the table the private party that contributed the $1 million," McVoy said. "We matched the money for the relocation."

McVoy said it's up to town officials to figure out if they want cash or construction of the Art Base from Lowe Enterprises. That's not CDC's call, he said.

"I can guarantee you, if they don't approve any development they're not going to get a penny," McVoy said.

If Lowe's plan advances, it would leave Roaring Fork CDC with about 1 acre of vacant land. Lowe's proposed development would require only 1.3 acres. The remainder could be added to the town's land beside the Roaring Fork River, which is being turned into a park.

McVoy said Roaring Fork CDC would be willing to sell that land to the town.

The Town Council hasn't met since Lowe made its proposal. Interim Town Manager Davis Farrar said the council will meet with DeFrancia in a pre-application meeting on a date to be determined.

However, the council won't make any promises about the review process, Farrar said. The applicant can come in and present a plan, the council can respond in a non-binding way "or simply stare back at them," he said.

DeFrancia is looking for more solid direction from the council. He said he wants an "on the record" conversation where the council gives general comments on the plan. He is unwilling to spend a lot of money preparing a formal application and risk having the council "barf on it," he said.

But Farrar said he cannot expect an answer on whether the project will fly before a formal application or public review begins.

"That's not the way it's supposed to work," Farrar said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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