Basalt ballot boils down to dueling visions for Pan and Fork site
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about the Basalt ballot issues. A future story will look at the economics of the town’s park plan.
Basalt’s election on the uses of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site boils down to different visions for prime property that is adjacent to the Roaring Fork River but also just a stone’s throw from downtown.
The vision of some people is a “legacy park” that takes advantage of Basalt’s position on the river. They want to keep as much of the property open as possible.
Other people view the Pan and Fork site as a key to adding vitality to the tired downtown by mixing residential and commercial uses while still preserving a considerable share for a river park.
Two questions on the November ballot will serve as what Councilman Bernie Grauer labeled a referendum on the long-discussed park idea.
The first question will seek voter approval for the purchase of 2.3 acres along Two Rivers Road for $2.9 million. The town would purchase the property from the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. and add it to land the town already owns next to the river.
The second question seeks voter approval for funding for $4 million in park improvements and related infrastructure. The bonds for park improvements will only be issued if the question on the purchase is approved.
If both questions are approved, Basalt will issue bonds for about $7 million. They would be repaid through an existing sales tax dedicated to open space and trails as well as the extension of an existing property tax.
Proponents say the park proposal gives Basalt the opportunity to define its character for generations to come. They want Basalt to add to its holdings at the former Pan and Fork site and create a riverside park close to downtown that would be a benefit for Basalt residents but also draw visitors regionally.
Some proponents have pointed to parks in river towns such as Salida as a model.
Greg Shugars, a longtime vocal supporter of the project, said at a recent Basalt Town Council meeting that the time has come to pursue such a project. The town’s Parks, Open Space and Trails Committee worked on the design for more than one year with consulting firm DHM Design.
The Town Council pared down the proposal, but much of the recommended plan is intact. It features amenities such as a band shell, a children’s play area, a great lawn with stone terraces, gathering places on the waterfront and boardwalks. Two Rivers Road near the intersection of Midland Avenue would be reworked to be more pedestrian-friendly. The bus shelters in the area would be relocated and spruced up.
The band shell would be in the corner of the property closest to the Midland Avenue Bridge over the Roaring Fork River. The children’s play area would be in the calmer waters of a stream flowing through a portion of the park rather than in the river itself.
Shugars said the time is ripe for town residents to act on the dream of a legacy park.
“Sometimes I think we have a fear of pulling the trigger in Basalt even though we have all the bullets,” Shugars said.
Under the town’s plan, about 1.3 acres of the 2.3 acres purchased from the Community Development Corp. would be dedicated to the expanded park. The town owns just shy of 3 acres at the site already, but much of that land is in the river channel, and some of the remainder is susceptible to flooding. Park proponents contend the additional 1.3 acres is necessary to create a viable park.
The remaining land purchased from Community Development Corp. would be dedicated for development. The council majority said last week it would consider commercial development and “community serving” uses but no residential.
A sizable contingent of Basalt residents and property owners have criticized the plan and claimed the town government is missing the boat with the park plan.
Landscape architect Nick Aceto has consistently urged the council and park proponents to think bigger. Aceto contended that wise community planning would integrate residential and commercial uses with the park. The town plan separates the property between open space and development with an arbitrary line, he said.
“Our downtown open space, or legacy park plan, is like building a house with no rooms, just four walls and no door,” Aceto said in an email exchange with The Aspen Times. “We should instead be working in a creative capacity to stitch the river environment with the urban fabric, just as numerous other river towns have.”
Aceto prepared drawings to display his concept of integrated planning. He posted the drawing on the Basalt Community Page on Facebook, where it was well-received.
He stressed that he isn’t touting his drawings as a definitive solution. Instead, he aimed to get people thinking about alternatives.
Aceto’s vision includes mixed residences, such as artists’ lofts and live-work units, next to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Innovation Center, a skating rink plaza and community event space, a couple of commercial buildings, and a new building for Town Hall, the Chamber of Commerce and a brew pub at the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue. The concept includes affordable housing and incubator space for businesses.
Wide swaths of public commons would separate the buildings, leading to the riverside park. The focal point of the park would be a 1-acre “great lawn” oriented around a band shell placed close to the Midland Avenue Bridge over the Roaring Fork River.
The planning for the Pan and Fork site should be done “in the creative realm” rather than the “political sphere,” according to Aceto.
“Design by ballot will only lead to further opportunities missed at best and a massive mistake for the community at worst,” he said.
In the hands of voters
Grauer said at a council meeting last week that the park proposal faces opposition from “a handful of very strident critics.” He also noted that an earlier plan by a developer for “wall to wall condos” on the Community Development Corp. property was opposed by 70 to 80 percent of people attending meetings. Clearly, there is support for a park, he said.
“Nobody will force anything down your throat,” Grauer said. If people don’t like the town’s proposed direction, they can vote “no” on the purchase proposal and park improvements. That would force the council to seek a different solution.
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