Basalt council frames compromise on Pan and Fork site

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

A breakfast of bacon and eggs Friday helped the Basalt Town Council cook up a proposed compromise on open space and development on the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site.

In an informal setting at Two Rivers Cafe, six of the seven council members determined how much development they will accept at the site and how much they want preserved as park and open space. The deal is non-binding because it was made in a work session, but Town Manager Mike Scanlon said it provides an important framework for negotiations with Lowe Enterprises, a development firm that proposed a 60-room boutique hotel and 52 condominiums on the site.

Lowe has an option to by about 2.4 acres of the former Pan and Fork site from the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. The town government owns the other half of the site. It will convert its property, closest to the Roaring Fork River, into a riverfront park.

In practical terms, the council drew a line in the dirt that means it won’t accept development from a point in the Pan and Fork site directly across from where Midland Spur intersects with Two Rivers Road back to the east. That will keep it open visually and physically as the area is approached from downtown.

It requires more open space than Lowe contemplated in its initial proposal. A hotel would have to be relocated to the west — toward the Rocky Mountain Institute building under construction — to fit on the site. The council direction hasn’t been presented to Lowe yet. Jim DeFrancia, president of the firm, is scheduled to meet with the council Tuesday evening.

Councilman Rick Stevens said it was important for the council to make a statement on where it stands because many people perceive the debate to be “all park or all development” on the half of the Pan and Fork site that Lowe has an option to buy.

“The messages have been mixed,” Stevens said. “It’s all over the place.”

He later emphasized his point by saying, “I think what we’ve got to say is we’ll accept some level of development on the (Lowe) property.”

Stevens acknowledged that he is probably hearing from a different crowd of Basalt residents than other coucil members. He’s hearing from a pro-development contingent.

“They feel like we’re just trying to kill downtown,” Stevens said.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said she’s never heard anyone on the council say they wanted the entire Pan and Fork site left as a park. She said she’s consistently said she could accept some development as long as the entire riverfront is left open as well as a significant part of the site closest to Two Rivers Road. Whitsitt said a hotel and restaurant could work on the remainder of the property, as long as they are compatible with the park.

“I don’t think we’re that far apart,” she said of the council.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said constituents have reached out to him with enthusiasm for keeping more of the property open. Like Whitsitt, he said he never supported keeping all of it open for park.

Mark Kittle said development of the site is one of the biggest issues Basalt has debated in many years, based on constituent interest.

“We’re all getting bombarded,” he said.

Councilman Herschel Ross said he supports “reasonable” development with some of the site used to increase the size of the park. Like Stevens, he said he is hearing from people who support development.

“It’s absolutely true what Rick says. There’s some panic out there,” Ross said.

Councilman Rob Leavitt supported the board’s direction. Councilman Bernie Grauer was traveling and unable to attend.

Scanlon presented the proposed dividing line between development and park as a compromise. Reducing the size of the site that can be developed reduces the land purchase and infrastructure costs facing Lowe, he noted. The town could buy some of the site from Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. to retain open space under the proposed compromise. The next step for the town government will be gauging Lowe’s reaction Tuesday.