Basalt council determined to settle Pan and Fork rather than go to public vote |

Basalt council determined to settle Pan and Fork rather than go to public vote

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Basalt Town Council members indicated Friday they need to make the “tough decision” on the future of the Pan and Fork site rather than send the issue to voters.

In a hastily called special meeting scheduled for 7 a.m. Friday, Councilman Rob Leavitt urged the board to approve a vision statement for the site to show that the town has a plan and is progressing toward details. He said he doesn’t want the issue to go to a public vote.

“I think we were elected to make hard decisions, and this is a hard decision,” Leavitt said.

The council majority said earlier this month they were leaning toward placing a question about the Pan and Fork site on the town ballot. However, Town Manager Mike Scanlon said the necessary work could not be completed in time to place a question on the November ballot. One necessary step is negotiating a purchase contract with the property owner.

“If we want anything to happen here, we need to get past this nitpicky, accusatory, inflammatory finger-pointing or it ain’t going to happen.” — Basalt Councilman Rick Stevens

Leavitt said he believes the council is making progress on determining what to do with the site.

“We’re close,” Leavitt said. Less than two years ago there were 29 mobile homes on the site, he noted. Now, the residences have been removed and there is a plan that will preserve about ¾ of the 5-acre site as open space.

The town purchased half of the site closest to the Roaring Fork River for a park. The nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. purchased the remaining 2.4 acres closest to Two Rivers Road. It has a contract to sell the property to Aspen development firm Lowe Enterprises.

Leavitt said his interpretation of the board’s vision is to allow some level of development on the west side of the Community Development Corp’s site, next to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s new Innovation Center. The development would include a “hotel-type thing” with public amenities associated with it, residential development off the river but possibly on town-owned property against the hillside along Midland Spur and three-quarters open space, he said.

The size and height of the development can be worked out in a public process, he said.

“Those are details that we’ll talk about,” Leavitt said. “Let’s get to that point by agreeing to something like” the plan Leavitt laid out.

A maximum of 75,000 square feet of development has been envisioned in town planning efforts. Several members of the board said they want to see the town progress with a predevelopment agreement that would require Lowe Enterprises and the town split the cost of an economic feasibility study by the town’s financial consultant. The predevelopment agreement failed by a 3-3 vote Aug. 11. Councilman Bernie Grauer, who voted against it, said he will ask for reconsideration at Tuesday’s council meeting. If the matter is reconsidered, he will reverse his vote, he said, because he now believes it would be useful.

Councilman Rick Stevens wasn’t at the Aug. 11 meeting. He has said he would have voted for the predevelopment agreement.

The economic-feasibility study envisioned in the agreement will look at various development scenarios and how they would affect the town coffers. The town has invested about $7 million in river restoration and infrastructure improvements at the Pan and Fork site thus far.

Councilman Mark Kittle said the consultant’s work is necessary for the board to make a “logical decision.”

“We have to find out where the number is that keeps us whole and solvent,” Kittle said.

He had previously indicated the issue might have to go to a public vote, but Friday, Kittle said the council should decide the issue.

“Like Rob said, we’re almost there,” Kittle said. “We just need to figure out how much development. I’m thinking 75,000 square feet might be too much.”

Leavitt also said the consultant’s study will be the key to determining the size.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said that she cannot say that she is on the same page as the council majority.

“It’s pretty clear that the majority of this board is OK with 75,000 square feet on the river. I’m not. I’m still not,” Whitsitt said.

“If we want something smaller than this, start saying we want something smaller than this,” she later added.

Whitsitt also suggested the issue might still end up on the ballot. A resident initiative has been suggested as a possibility. The Pan and Fork issue also seems likely to factor heavily into the April municipal election, when the mayor’s seat and three council positions will be decided.

“I don’t want to refer this to the ballot. That doesn’t mean this won’t end up on the ballot some other way,” Whitsitt said.

Stevens said he wants a transparent, inclusive process where the community determines how to proceed at the site. He wants a process that takes two years rather than never-ending debate.

“If we want anything to happen here, we need to get past this nitpicky, accusatory, inflammatory finger-pointing, or it ain’t going to happen,” Stevens said.

“I guarantee you, we can go forward with something that’s going to make everybody happy, but right now that doesn’t seem to be the direction this community is going,” he said.

Leavitt said after the session that the meeting accomplished what he hoped.

“I think we’re on the same page,” he said. “It didn’t come out as clearly as I hoped.”