Basalt council gets first look at proposed river center |

Basalt council gets first look at proposed river center

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy of the Roaring Fork ConservancyThis image depicts the river center that the Roaring Fork Conservancy plans to build in Basalt.

BASALT – A river center that has been envisioned in Basalt for 14 years gained a generally favorable review from the Basalt Town Council last week, although the size of the building and its affects on an adjacent park emerged as concerns.

The nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy wants to build an 8,432-square-foot education and research center on land it bought from the town in 2005. The site is just west of Tacqueria el Nopal restaurant. It will be a stone’s throw from the pond in Old Pond Park and a couple of hundred yards from the Roaring Fork River, so the outdoors will be a handy laboratory.

Conservancy founders first envisioned the center in 1996, according to Tim O’Keefe, education director for the organization. It will help the Roaring Fork Conservancy with its mission of educating people about water quality, quantity and riverside habitat in the 1,500-square-mile Roaring Fork Basin.

The building will feature research laboratories, offices, conference space and lots of room for hands-on exhibits, O’Keefe said.

The conservancy intends to build the structure in three phases, with slightly more than half of the proposed space constructed in the first phase next year. Build-out wouldn’t be until 2017.

Town Council members didn’t offer extensive comments during their first look at the project May 14, but Councilman Pete McBride indicated he wants to discuss the center’s size. He noted it is “four times” the size of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies center at Hallam Lake, a renowned environmental education center.

Councilman Glenn Rappaport countered that it took some people a long time to “get over” the new Basalt library’s size of 20,000 square feet. The facility has enjoyed near universal accolades since it opened in January. Rappaport said the council should give the Roaring Fork Conservancy “the space it needs” for an effective river center.

Another concern among town officials is the river center’s affect on the adjacent Old Pond Park. “There is potential that the minimal setbacks and the orientation of the proposed building may create the perception that the adjacent pond is a private amenity – despite being owned by the town,” says a memo prepared by the town planning staff.

There might not be enough room for a “comfortable trail experience” between the river center and the pond after phase two is constructed, the memo says. The trail is wanted to access public parkland.

The six members of the council at the meeting credited the conservancy for a solid plan, but said they want to hold another meeting to delve into details. The discussion is scheduled May 25.

The conservancy is seeking a one-stop approval process from the council. Developments typically come before the council three times.

“If it all works out wonderfully, you wouldn’t see it again,” town Planning Director Susan Philp said.

Council members said they want to take a careful look since it will be their only opportunity.