Basalt Councilman Grauer will run against Mayor Whitsitt in April election | AspenTimes.com

Basalt Councilman Grauer will run against Mayor Whitsitt in April election

The debate over the Pan and Fork site in Basalt already has emerged as the driving issue in a mayoral election that is six months away.

Councilman Bernie Grauer confirmed Monday that he will run against incumbent Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, who said she will seek re-election to a four-year term. Candidates in the municipal races can take out a petition and collect signatures starting Jan. 5. If Grauer and Whitsitt follow through with their plans, they will square off April 5 in the mayoral race.

"I came to the conclusion that Jacque and I had fairly significantly different visions of what to do with the Pan and Fork property and the revitalization of downtown," Grauer said. "That made me realize it would be good to have a fairly clear choice between the two visions."

Grauer said he supports the town's purchase of about half of the 2.4 acres that the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. owns along Two Rivers Road just west of downtown. The town government already owns the half of the property closest to the Roaring Fork River.

Between 70 and 75 percent of the overall property — once the site of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park — should be a park, he said.

"I would like to see significant development on the other part to revitalize the economy of the downtown," Grauer added.

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He defined significant development as "a happy medium" between 35,000 and 75,000 square feet.

"I am not locked into 75,000 square feet. I think that is inappropriately large and out of scale, size and mass with the rest of the town," Grauer said. "I believe the lower limit that we've looked at, 35,000 square feet, is inadequate to revitalize the town."

Most people would find the happy medium acceptable but not everyone is going to be happy with that amount of development, he said.

Whitsitt agreed that the Pan and Fork is emerging as the central campaign issue.

"It appears that way," she said.

She was thinking about running for re-election over the past few months, she said. She said she wants to continue to represent Basalt's "silent majority" who don't come to meetings but supports preserving small-town character and quality of life.

Whitsitt said she wants the vast majority of the Community Development Corp.'s property purchased as an active park that provides an abundance of public access to the river, some type of water feature that draws people, some type of venue for events and a restaurant and bar.

Town Council discussions have focused on concentrating development to the west side of the Pan and Fork site, closest to the new Rocky Mountain Institute building. That would preserve more of an open feel at the entrance of the property near the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue. The amount of development has been intensely debated by the community throughout this year.

Whitsitt said she wants to limit development to less than 30,000 square feet, but the focus really needs to be on how the property is used.

"It's beyond square feet," she said. "It's the uses."

It will be "problematic" if people are trying to sleep in a hotel or residences immediately adjacent to a property that would host special events and community activities, she said. The residents will want noise limited, so there will be conflicts between residential and park uses, she said. Whitsitt said she doesn't believe the community majority supports residences at the site.

Grauer said he supports some type of residences or a condominium hotel. He said he would prefer a hotel that provides tourist beds that turn over and help spur business for the town, but he doubts there is demand for a hotel with the existing lodging downtown and an Element by Westin opening at Willits this month.

Whitsitt was elected mayor in 2012. Grauer was elected to a council seat in 2014 and is in the middle of a term. He would retain the council seat if he failed to win election as mayor. The board would appoint his replacement if he were elected mayor.

scondon@aspentimes.com