Basalt council keeps options open at Pan and Fork

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

The Basalt Town Council is setting itself up — intentionally — to make a major policy decision on whether to allow development on part of the former Pan and Fork property or convert it all to a park.

The council gave an informal nod in a work session Tuesday night to a proposal to buy some of the remaining Pan and Fork site from the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation.

The town government and the nonprofit teamed in August 2011 to buy the 5.3-acre mobile home park for $3.25 million. The town owns 2.9 acres closest to the Roaring Fork River and plans to develop a park. It used $1.2 million in open space funds for the acquisition.

The nonprofit retained 2.4 acres after chipping in $2.05 million. The nonprofit organization tied to George Stranahan’s Manaus Fund was using rental from the former 38-unit mobile home park to pay off interest on its debt. However, the residents were relocated and the trailers removed so there is no longer a revenue stream.

Town Manager Mike Scanlon said the nonprofit loses the income it needs to pay interest on an $875,000 loan from Alpine Bank and a $500,000 second mortgage to other creditors. Its other debt is unsecured.

Scanlon proposed that the town use $1.23 million in bonding authority that it hasn’t used to buy as much of the property as possible from the nonprofit. Town voters approved up to $5 million in bonds to ease flooding issues on the Roaring Fork River at the Pan and Fork site and raise the elevation of the developable part of the property. That project is underway, but didn’t require the full $5 million.

Scanlon said two appraisals place the value of the nonprofit’s property at between $2 million and $2.5 million. The town could acquire at least about half of the remaining property, he said.

Councilman Herschel Ross asked if it is an option to let the nonprofit default on its loans. Scanlon said it wouldn’t be a very good option because the property wouldn’t be in the town’s control.

“We’re saving their bacon, basically,” Ross said.

But Scanlon said the purchase would allow the town to control its destiny. The town has engaged residents in a process to determine how they want to see five major parcels in downtown used in the future. The former Pan and Fork is one of those properties. By acquiring some of the nonprofit’s property, the town has flexibility to develop more of it as a park or sell it to a developer, Scanlon said.

“I think this is not just bailing out (Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation),” Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said.

Tennenbaum and Councilmen Rob Leavitt and Bernie Grauer expressed an interest in acquiring the nonprofit’s property to keep all of the Pan and Fork site open as a riverside park. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt has expressed a similar desire.

Councilmen Ross, Rick Stevens and Mark Kittle didn’t state a preference Tuesday night.

Basalt’s community planning process has included options that envision use of the Pan and Fork property as a future home for the Wyly Arts Center and other undefined commercial development along Two Rivers Road. That process isn’t finished.