Basalt council gung-ho for first big open-space deal | AspenTimes.com

Basalt council gung-ho for first big open-space deal

Basalt officials agreed last night to make their first big open-space purchase since voters created a special fund last November.

The Town Council authorized its staff to proceed with the purchase of the six-acre Levinson property west of downtown. It will cost an estimated $2.2 million to buy and cleanup the property owned by Dan and Lynn Levinson.

“It’s not outrageous at all. It’s a reasonable price,” said Charlie Cole, a member of the citizens open-space advisory committee.

That committee recommended by an 8-0 vote that the town follow through on a purchase contract it previously negotiated with the Levinsons. The board advised the Town Council to sell part of the land for an amount equal to or greater than its costs for the entire six acres – essentially making the town a land speculator.

That would allow the town to replenish the limited dollars in its open-space fund.

The Levinson property is located between Two Rivers Road and the Roaring Fork River. Town officials want to turn the half closest to the Roaring Fork into a riverfront park.

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The half closest to the road is eyed for redevelopment. It currently is home to a handful of businesses, including the popular Taqueria el Nopal restaurant.

Town officials reiterated their interest in offering part of the site for sale to the Basalt Regional Library district for a new library and to the nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy for a nature center.

That would still leave some of the parcel closest to the road available for redevelopment. The town would work with a developer rather than develop it itself, officials said.

If the town wouldn’t have gone through with the deal, the Levinsons would have been allowed to develop up to 60,000 square feet of commercial and residential space.

In public hands, the amount may be less. The library district wants to build a 20,000-square-foot facility. The Conservancy is eying a 6,000-square-foot center.

Mayor Rick Stevens said the town won’t necessarily favor development of 60,000 square feet.

“We might go for the medium kill rather than the big kill,” he said.

Any revenues raised from sale of part of the property would have to be returned to the open-space fund.

Stevens said the real benefit of acquiring the land is preserving the portion by the river. Once that half is cleaned up and turned into a park, it will be a “great asset” that is priceless for the town, he predicted.

Despite the council’s passage of an ordinance to forge ahead with the deal, it is far from over. First, a negotiating team must work out remaining points with the Levinsons.

For example, the Levinsons stated in the original purchase agreement that “no environmental or public health or safety hazards currently exist.”

But the town has determined that it must remove asbestos from 400 square feet of linoleum from the Taqueria for about $4,000. About 400 cubic yards of contaminated soil must be shipped from the site at a cost of $26,000. Removal of junk and debris – including 40-plus vehicles left at an old gas station – will cost $125,000.

“Thus, in addition to the contract purchase price, there is an additional $155,000 estimated as the cost for cleaning the site,” wrote town attorney Jody Edwards in a memo to the council.

“We may have a claim against the Levinsons for some or all of these costs,” he concluded.

Stevens said that once negotiations are concluded with the Levinsons, the town will negotiate potential property sales with the library district and conservancy. It will also determine the property level of overall development and make plans for renovation of the open space.

While the Levinson deal will apparently be the town’s first big open-space purchase, it isn’t the first purchase overall. The town acquired 1.7 acres at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers last month for $225,000.

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