Basalt council votes 5-2 to pursue compromise at Pan and Fork
The Basalt Town Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to approve a blueprint for resolving what gets built and what gets preserved on the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park.
A resolution says that some development should occur on the half of the site closest to Two Rivers Road but additional parkland also should be added. The blueprint applies to 2.3 acres of land next to Two Rivers Road. It’s owned by Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., which has a contract to sell it to developer Lowe Enterprises.
The town owns the half of the former Pan and Fork site closest to the Roaring Fork River. It is constructing a riverfront park.
The resolution approved by the council also states that the town will use a map that identifies where development would be appropriate and what should be kept open as the groundwork for future talks. The council informally approved the map at a breakfast meeting Friday.
A third point of the resolution sets up more public meetings to explain the proposal and gather input, and it gives the town staff direction to continue negotiations with Lowe Enterprises and the property owner.
Council members Bernie Grauer, Rob Leavitt, Rick Stevens, Mark Kittle and Herschel Ross approved the resolution. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Councilman Gary Tennenbaum opposed it.
Leavitt said the potential agreement is a compromise. The people who want more green space are getting something. The people who want downtown development to spur vitality are getting something, he told an audience of about 40 people at Town Hall.
“I think we did a really good job of finding a sweet spot for everybody in the room,” Leavitt said.
Kittle, Stevens, Ross and Grauer said they want to see the town make progress in resolving the future of the site, which has been the most hotly debated topic in the town in years.
Whitsitt and Tennenbaum said they support pursuing a plan that combines some level of development and park on the Community Development Corp.’s property, but they had objections to the resolution as written. Whitsitt tried to amend the resolution to eliminate the map that shows where development would go and what would be left open. She said she didn’t want to tie the town’s position to the map, even though the resolution identifies it as a potential solution. Stevens criticized the move by saying removing the map was like “taking the meat” out of the proposed solution to the debate.
Whitsitt’s amendment died after only Tennenbaum supported it. Both Whitsitt and Tennenbaum supported the concept of the map at Friday’s informal meeting.
Tennenbaum said he doesn’t view the community debate as a huge division or battle. People that support development and park are both passionate. It’s a golden opportunity for the town, he said, so it’s important not to mess it up.
“There’s not just one or the other,” he said.
Whitsitt also said perceptions of the differing sides on the council haven’t necessarily reflected reality. “I have never said no development,” she said. “No one here ever did.”
Tennenbaum said the challenge is achieving a solution everybody can accept. The nonprofit Community Development Corp. suggested a possibility that some council members found intriguing. The organization’s president, Michael McVoy, urged the council to have the town buy the entire 2.3 acres, then take the time it wants to determine what it wants to do with the property. The property is under contract to Lowe Enterprises for $3 million. Lowe Enterprises President Jim DeFrancia told the council he would not object to the town negotiating to buy it from Community Development Corp.
McVoy said he isn’t confident the council will reach a conclusion on what to do with the property since the community appears divided. By purchasing the entire site, the town starts with a clean slate.
“If you were to change the model, the conversation would change,” he said.
About 15 members of the audience spoke and several supported McVoy’s suggestion that the town should just buy the parcel and then decide what to do. Some members of the council also expressed support, but no definitive direction was set. Stevens bristled at the thought of the town buying the land from Community Development Corp. He said the nonprofit’s mission is social justice and it’s goal in buying the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park was to relocating the residents out of an area with the potential for catastrophic flood into better housing. The nonprofit couldn’t move on its plan so the town took over and completed the relocation.
“Now we’re being asked to step up again,” Stevens said. “I don’t see the social justice in that.”
Kittle also said he wants to see Community Development Corp. stay in the mix until the fate of the property is resolved.
DeFrancia also said Lowe Enterprises is interested in staying in the mix. He said the firm will gladly assess any development proposal the town comes up with. “We’re not trying to sell anything. We’re trying to deliver something,” he said.
Several council members credited the company for hanging in despite a passionate community debate.
The town’s next step will be to collect input on the map proposing a mix of development and parkland and holding another community meeting.
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Current Basalt officials say the town government has violated the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Right by increasing the property tax mill levy over the prior years 10 times since the mid-2000s. Two former mayors contend the mill levy could be adjusted in any given year as long as it didn’t exceed the mill levy in 1994. It’s a $2 million question.