Basalt ballot question on trailer park takes shape
Basalt officials are determined to ask voters in November to approve funding necessary to speed the redevelopment of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park — though numerous questions need to be answered and time is running short.
The Town Council must finalize wording for a November ballot question by Sept. 6. That leaves only six weeks to determine how much public money will be needed to help relocate current residents of the Pan and Fork and the expense of easing the flood risk of the Roaring Fork River in the area of the mobile-home park.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said her experience helping run public campaigns for funding for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority suggests that Basalt should be putting together a group of residents to promote the ballot question by that time. The key to success for a funding question is organization early in the process, she said Tuesday night at a council meeting.
“I’m not panicky,” Whitsitt said, but she feels the town government should have the question nailed down already.
Town Manager Mike Scanlon assured the Town Council that he is focused on the project.
“I’m now on steroids to get this done,” Scanlon said.
Scanlon has stressed to the council members in several meetings that a private developer won’t touch the Pan and Fork redevelopment opportunity without some public assistance. The town government first must take the initiative to relocate the current residents, and then it must undertake the work to remove part of the site from the floodplain before a developer invests in a project, according to Scanlon.
Scanlon, his staff and consultants are working on a plan for the town to issue bonds to raise an estimated $5 million for the proposed work. The bonds would be repaid through a combination of sales and property taxes. Town officials are exploring whether the bonds could be repaid without raising taxes.
The council supports the redevelopment because downtown merchants, the Basalt Chamber of Commerce and some residents view it as the economic salvation of the commercial core. Basalt’s economic energy shifted to Willits Town Center when Whole Foods Market opened nearly a year ago.
Councilman Rick Stevens said delaying the redevelopment of the Pan and Fork could have dire consequences for downtown.
“You want to talk about Willits eating our lunch,” he said.
Basalt already has a River Master Plan in place that lays out the engineering steps needed to ease the flooding potential at the Pan and Fork and other sites along the river. It’s a pricey plan at $30 million, according to Councilman Glenn Rappaport. He said it is at least three times more expensive than it should be.
“We’ve been held hostage by this plan now for 10 years,” Rappaport said. He contended that it was crafted on the assumption that Basalt would find external funding sources to execute it. That hasn’t happened. Rappaport wants a less expensive plan that Basalt can fund itself.
Ted Guy, a longtime Basalt-area resident and business owner who worked on the River Master Plan, also questioned whether Basalt was preparing to spend too much to accommodate the redevelopment of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park.
“What are we spending $5 million on? What are we getting?” he asked the council. He noted that he helped developer Robert Ritchey undertake flood mitigation that allowed the Riverside Plaza building to be constructed in Basalt. That flood-mitigation work was significantly less than the funds Basalt is prepared to spend at the Pan and Fork site.
“We the citizens need a lot more information,” Guy said.
The plan, in general, is for the town to lead the effort to relocate the residents. There are 38 mobile homes in the park, but two are vacant. Basalt is considering paying some residents for their trailer homes based on factors such as the number of years they have owned them. One tough issue facing the town is whether to aid residents who aren’t in the country legally.
Once residents are relocated, the work could be performed in the river and on the site to ease the flooding risk, which experts claim threatens the Pan and Fork. The town spent $1.2 million last year to acquire the part of the mobile-home park closest to the river. That land will be turned into a park. Another 2 acres will be available for development. There has been preliminary discussion about a hotel and associated retail and restaurant development on the site. No plan is being reviewed while the town wrestles with the other questions. Few concrete details have been released on the proposal.
Guy questioned whether the town will be reimbursed enough by a private developer for the work it will undertake to make the site developable.
Rappaport said he is receiving calls already from constituents who have questions about the project. The proposal won’t have universal support, he said.
“It’s going to be a mixed bag, right? We know that,” Rappaport said. He supports resolving the issue by placing a question on the ballot.
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