Basalt council compromises on two questions for November ballot |

Basalt council compromises on two questions for November ballot

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt makes a point about ballot question wording at a meeting last week.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

The Basalt Town Council approved two questions for the November ballot related to the Pan and Fork site Tuesday night after painstakingly debating language and related issues for three hours.

The council voted 6-0 to compromise on language on the purchase of 2.3 acres of property currently owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. The purchase price was set at $2.9 million.

The language designates one acre for development and the remainder, 1.317 acres, for park. The acre designated for development is on the western side of the property, closest to Rocky Mountain Institute’s Innovation Center. The uses are restricted for commercial or “public purposes.” The council eliminated the possibility of residential development.

“I’ve said it a million times — I’m absolutely against residential uses,” said Councilman Gary Tennenbaum.

The council members, minus Mark Kittle who was absent because of a family emergency, said they wanted to strike a balance between getting too specific and giving voters enough assurance on the town’s intent.

They were concerned that being too vague would alienate both the pro-park and pro-development camps. However, some members also expressed concerns that pledging to allow development on 1 acre would yield a big-box development that most people would find undesirable.

“If there was ever a climate in the Roaring Fork Valley where someone would get sued, it’s here,” Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said.

The council considered four options for the ballot question, with option one the most vaguely worded. It met steadfast opposition from Councilmen Auden Schendler and Bernie Grauer while Whitsitt supported it.

“Option one, I think, is dead in the water politically. People won’t vote for it,” Schendler said. That option didn’t guarantee that an acre of the Community Development Corp. land would be used for development.

The $2.9 million price in the ballot question matches an appraisal that the town government received Tuesday. The contract with Community Development Corp. was initially for $3 million. David Myler, an attorney for the corporation, proposed they split the different and settle on a sales price of $2.95 million. The council majority said no. They couldn’t justify paying more than the appraisal.

Myler said Community Development’s board of directors must approve any price reduction from $3 million. He said Community Development Corp. would have an answer within 48 hours.

If the property owner won’t drop its price, the ballot question won’t be asked. The contract also is contingent on voter approval.

The second ballot question approved Tuesday night seeks approval to issue bonds to pay for park improvements on land the town already owns next to the Roaring Fork River at the Pan and Fork site as well as the acre it would acquire from Community Development Corp.

The second question is directly linked to the first question. If voters reject the purchase of the 2.3 acres owned by Community Development Corp., the bonds being sought in the second question won’t be issued.

It’s conceivable that voters could approve acquisition of the Community Development Corp. land but reject funding park improvements.

If voters pass both questions, it would enable the town to issue about $7 million in bonds for acquisition of land and park improvements. The bond would be repaid through a property tax and sales tax dedicated to open space and trails.

An existing property tax that is being used to pay off bonds would be extended for six years, if the questions are approved.

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