Basalt council majority wants to explore buying all of Pan and Fork site
The Aspen Times
As the deadline looms about five weeks away for deciding wording for a November ballot question, the Basalt Town Council majority is leaning toward swinging for the fences when it comes to the former Pan and Fork site.
In a work session Tuesday evening, five council members indicated they would consider a ballot question that asks voters to approve funding to buy the remaining 2.3 acres of the Pan and Fork that isn’t already in town hands.
No decision was made and the council members made it clear they need a lot more information before they can form a ballot question. However, they directed Town Manager Mike Scanlon to talk to Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. to see if the nonprofit would be willing to sell all or part of the property and for how much.
Town Attorney Tom Smith said it would be best if the town had a contract prior to the election to let voters know the exact proposal.
The purchase plan came up while the council was assessing if they want to seek voter approval for bonds to build a park on the property just west of downtown between the Roaring Fork River and Two Rivers Road. The town owns about 3 acres closest to the river. Community Development Corp. owns 2.3 acres closest to Two Rivers Road.
The town’s Parks, Open Space and Trails committee recommended a plan last week that features $8 million in amenities and infrastructure for what’s called the Basalt River Park.
Denise Latousek, a member of the committee, said Basalt has a chance to build a “legacy” park that could make Basalt a destination. It could help revitalize downtown, she said.
“Yes, it is expensive, but so is everything else,” Latousek said. The town doesn’t want to shortchange the development of the park and then look back in five years with regrets, she said.
The council didn’t make firm decisions about whether to go with the full $8 million park plan. Instead, attention was diverted toward acquiring the whole Pan and Fork site before deciding what to build.
Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer said she needs to know what, if anything, the town is buying and who the partners are in the purchase before contemplating park amenities.
“Until I get that resolved, I feel like I’m talking about nothing,” she said.
Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle responded, “My interest is purchasing the entire 2.3 acres.” She later added that she supports buying the remainder of the property for use entirely as a park. A significant number of people have approached her in the past two weeks and asked why the town is even considering allowing development at the Pan and Fork, she said.
But other council members made it clear the town must allow some type of commercial development on about an acre of property closest to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s headquarters if they want to gain widespread community support.
The lengthy public planning process the town has undertaken has envisioned “significant development” from the start, Councilman Bernie Grauer said. A proposal to buy the property needs to retain commercial development.
“It’s a better story to tell the voters,” he said.
The idea of buying the entire property gained tentative support from Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Councilman Gary Tennenbaum as well as Riffle, Schwoerer and Grauer.
Councilman Auden Schendler said he preferred buying the land necessary for the park and letting Community Development Corp. know what it could develop on the remaining acre.
“You don’t have to buy it and put taxpayer money at risk,” he said.
Councilman Mark Kittle had to leave the meeting prior to discussion about buying the property.
Whitsitt contended it will be too confusing if the remaining property is split with an uncertain future on the piece eyed for development.
“I think we need to buy the whole thing,” she said.
Grauer proposed a compromise, in which he wants to word a ballot question for 1 acre that would be purchased with taxable bonds, signifying to voters that 1 acre would be reserved for development.
Scanlon was directed to talk to Community Development Corp. officials and report back to the council on the potential for a property purchase at the July 26 meeting.
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