Basalt council approves study of Pan and Fork scenarios
The Aspen Times
After a tumultuous two weeks, the Basalt Town Council reversed direction Tuesday night and ended up back where it started in trying to determine how much development is appropriate on the Pan and Fork site.
The council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to approve a document called a pre-development agreement with the owner of part of the Pan and Fork site and the developer with a contract to buy the land.
The council was deadlocked 3-3 on the agreement two weeks ago.
The latest vote was taken after another high-intensity community meeting where people opposed to or for development on the site lobbied the council. Roughly 12 people on each side spoke.
The slow growth contingent claimed the pre-development agreement creates a perception that the council is endorsing as much as 75,000 square feet of development between Two Rivers Road and the Roaring Fork River.
The proponents of development at the site claimed the agreement simply gives Town Council information necessary to make an informed decision.
The debate is dominating town discussions and dividing a fair share of involved residents.
“I woke up this morning and felt like ‘Groundhog Day,’ I really did,” Councilman Mark Kittle said, referring to the movie where Bill Murray is stuck in time.
Kittle said 75,000 square feet of development is probably too much, but he wants to look at the financial feasibility behind several scenarios.
Councilman Rob Leavitt said 75,000 square feet is an “arbitrary number” that was selected by town staff. There is no guarantee or suggestion the council would approve that amount, he said. Similar to Kittle, he wants to see the numbers behind various options.
“I want to go down this road to see what it looks like,” he said.
The agreement allows the town’s independent financial consultant, Ehler’s of Minneapolis-St. Paul, the ability to work with Lowe Enterprises to understand finances behind various development scenarios. Lowe, a company with strong Aspen ties, has a contract to buy about 2.4 acres from the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Co.
Ehler’s will examine at least four scenarios, from no development to 75,000 square feet. Town Manager Mike Scanlon has used pre-development agreements to vet several projects during his two-year tenure. More often than not, the process has proved a developer cannot proceed, he noted.
Nevertheless, the phrase pre-development agreement creates confusion and concern that development is a sure thing, said Councilman Gary Tennenbaum. He said the town should have continued working on a master plan for the Pan and Fork site and other downtown properties rather than considering a pre-development agreement.
“It divided the community I think for no good reason,” Tennenbaum said.
The council was deadlocked 3-3 on the pre-development agreement at its Aug. 11 meeting, so the motion died. Councilman Bernie Grauer, who voted against approval of the agreement, changed his mind and asked for reconsideration. Grauer said he thought two weeks ago the issue was best left to a public vote. Now it’s clear the issue is too complicated to craft a ballot question in time for the November election. It would have to wait until April for legal reasons. In light of that, he said the council must hash the issue out.
Tennenbaum said he doesn’t like how the issue has divided the community. “I don’t like it because I miss peace,” he said.
Tennenbaum and Mayor Jacque Whitsitt opposed the pre-development agreement. It was supported by Leavitt, Kittle, Grauer and Councilmen Herschel Ross and Rick Stevens.