Developer puts Basalt project on ‘back burner,’ won’t submit application
October 4, 2017
The head of an Aspen-based development firm said Wednesday he's not ready to walk away from a potential project in Basalt, but he's putting it on the back burner.
Jim DeFrancia of Lowe Enterprises said the company won't spend the money to prepare a formal development application until the Basalt Town Council charts a course of action on the 2.3 acres owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp.
"I've got a four-burner stove," DeFrancia said, "and it's sitting on the right rear."
Lowe Enterprises submitted a "pre-application submission" to the town government in August. DeFrancia wanted to discuss the proposal with the council to gauge their interest. If they were warm on the idea, he said his firm would prepare a formal application.
But the council declined to discuss it, citing potential legal problems of commenting on a land-use issue outside of the formal process. In addition, a subset of the council, serving on the financial advisory board, directed the town staff to explore ways the town could buy the entire 2.3 acres without issuing bonds and incurring new debt.
Voters rejected a proposal to borrow funds to buy the property for $2.9 million in November. Critics contend that should preclude the council from seeking the purchase, even if no new bond issue is required.
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DeFrancia said leadership from the council will be required to break the stalemate. The issue is complicated, he said, for a variety of reasons.
The nonprofit Community Development Corp. wants $3 million from Lowe Enterprises for the property. The development firm has an option to buy, subject to conditions.
Lowe offered to pay $3 million on the assumption it could develop 150,000 square feet of facilities. That level of development was informally rejected by a faction of the community and the council majority. About half that amount has been floated as "appropriate" development, DeFrancia noted.
Therefore, his firm won't pay any more than $1.5 million because the size of possible development is reduced by half.
"How does the CDC get the remaining $1.5 million?" DeFrancia said.
One option is for the town to acquire the 1 acre some council members want to add to an existing, adjacent park along the Roaring Fork River.
If that's the route pursued, the Community Development Corp. wants to close on two sales simultaneously — one with Lowe and one with the town, DeFrancia said. Its bottom line is that it wants the $3 million, he said.
But the issue became cloudier with the town's decision to study how the entire site could be acquired. A faction of the council believes the only way to settle the controversy over the site is for the town to buy it all and sort out how it wants to use the property.
"This issue needs to be resolved before I'm willing to submit an application," DeFrancia said.
That's why he's putting the application on the back burner.
"The key players are CDC and the town," DeFrancia said. "From my view, the leadership should come from the public sector."
It's unclear how the council will proceed on the issue, given the division on the board. Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the council will discuss options in a work session Tuesday. Staff has worked up financial scenarios that feature a 70 percent park, 30 percent development option and a 50-50 percent park and development option. The staff will outline financial implications of each, he said.
The town government and Community Development Corp. teamed to buy the former site of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park in 2010. The town developed its portion, closest to the river. Controversy has dogged the CDC portion, closest to Two Rivers Road, for a considerable amount of time.