Aspen developer puts Basalt plan on hold until town sets direction |

Aspen developer puts Basalt plan on hold until town sets direction

Jim DeFrancia, president of Lowe Enterprises, discusses a proposal for a hotel and condominiums in downtown Basalt earlier this spring.
Aspen Times file photo |

The development firm that proposed a 60-room boutique hotel and 52 condominiums on riverside property in Basalt is headed to the “sidelines” while a community debate over the project plays out.

Lowe Enterprises President Jim DeFrancia said he is unwilling to spend any more funds on architectural and planning work until there is clarity on what the town wants. He said Monday that he will deliver that message to the Town Council at its next meeting April 28.

“We remain prepared to come in as a developer to execute on a plan the town wants,” DeFrancia said. “You — the town — have to tell us what to do.”

The current proposal has divided Basalt with significant support and opposition. It’s been debated in some of the most well-attended public meetings held by the town government in years.

“We’re not of the mind to walk away.”Jim DeFrancia, Lowe Enterprises

Lowe has a contract to buy 2.4 acres of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site. The development would occur on the half of the property closest to Two Rivers Road.

The town government is building a park on the half of the site closest to the Roaring Fork River.

Opponents of Lowe’s plan are divided into two camps — one that wants all the development property kept open as a park and another that wants less development than the firm proposed.

Council majority wants changes

The majority of the council said April 14 they want major refinements to the plan. The council directed its staff not to work on a predevelopment agreement that spells out steps that the town and Lowe Enterprises would have to take.

Meanwhile, proponents of the project have warned during public meetings and in letters to the council that Lowe Enterprises will “walk away” from the project because of the dispute. They claim Basalt will lose a golden opportunity to revitalize its downtown with the help of a developer with strong ties to the Roaring Fork Valley. Lowe Enterprises is part of a broader company that operates the The Gant Condominiums in Aspen and the Stonebridge Inn in Snowmass Village.

DeFrancia said his firm isn’t giving up yet on the Basalt development.

“I wouldn’t say ‘walk away’ as much as ‘standing on the sidelines wondering what to do,’” DeFrancia said. “We’re not of the mind to walk away.”

However, DeFrancia said his firm isn’t interested in engaging in a lengthy community battle. For that reason, Lowe Enterprises won’t work on a new development plan and gauge community reaction. His firm hired Cottle Carr Yaw Architects for the initial planning. DeFrancia said he cannot justify spending tens of thousands of additional dollars when Basalt doesn’t have a unified vision of what it wants.

“What we’ve done is put everything on hold,” he said.

‘It wasn’t my idea’

DeFrancia said the situation is confusing because the firm based its first plan on a recommendation made by Basalt’s Downtown Area Advisory Committee. The council-appointed panel hashed out general development guidelines and concepts for major downtown parcels, including the Pan and Fork site. DeFrancia said the plan for the hotel and condos came directly from the committee’s recommendation. However, members of the committee have debated whether Lowe’s plan matches its vision.

“We are certainly very surprised and startled over the opposition to what the town’s own (committee) recommended,” DeFrancia said.

Basalt’s situation is unlike the usual development scenario where a developer comes up with a plan, then the community weighs in on the review. Lowe Enterprises looked at what the Downtown Area Advisory Committee was recommending and decided it couldn’t deliver.

“It wasn’t my idea to begin with,” DeFrancia said.

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said she understands Lowe Enterprise’s desire for clarity before it puts any more effort into a project. Providing that direction is on her “front burner,” she said, and she wants the entire council to hold a discussion soon on what it wants to see.

“The council has enough information to tell the developer where we’re going,” she said.

Whitsitt was uncertain if that discussion will happen at the council’s April 28 meeting.

She noted that a lot of different views have emerged since Lowe Enterprises unveiled its proposal. The council has to listen to those views as well, she said.

In addition, Whitsitt said there also is debate on how closely Lowe Enterprises’ plan is to the Downtown Area Advisory Committee’s recommendation.

Economic realities

Lowe Enterprises has a contract to buy the property from Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that teamed with the town in 2011 to buy the Pan and Fork site.

DeFrancia said any development scenario must have economic viability simply because so much money is already tied into the property. Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. wants about $3 million for the property. That’s the amount of capital the nonprofit says it has put into the site, according to DeFrancia.

In addition, the town government has invested about $2.5 million in expenses that it needs to recover from a future developer. That includes relocating residents from the trailer park and undertaking the earthwork to raise the developable part of the property out of the flood plain.

“I’m happy to build a hotel but I can’t build a hotel with $6 million (in costs) just from walking in the door,” DeFrancia said.

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