Basalt councilmen spar over proposed land purchase for public works facility
The gloves came off in Basalt Town Council chambers Tuesday night over a proposal to buy one acre of land for $1.8 million for a public works facility.
The town staff recommended pulling the trigger on the deal because the existing facility for the public works department is aging and woefully inadequate. The town has a contract to buy land from Shelton Properties at 20522 Highway 82 in the Willits area.
The proposal has been criticized by a handful of observers outside town government, including two real estate agents, as well as by Councilman Bill Infante. The critics contend Basalt is spending too much and should hire a buyer’s broker to seek other options.
Other council members pushed back Tuesday against the opposition.
Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said the town government should have resolved finding land for a new facility years ago.
“It has outlived its life 15 years ago,” he said. “We have some issues that we need to work through before we close on this thing, but I really push this council to do something because the reality is having a centrally located public works facility is critical.”
Councilman Glenn Drummond said he didn’t want to scrap the deal because of criticism from “three or four people” out of a population of 4,400. He said the town staff has sought sites and believes it has found one that meets the town’s needs. The site is centrally located between Willits Town Center and downtown Basalt.
“I’m gonna believe what they say our needs are and I don’t think we’re getting a raw deal,” Drummond said. “I agree with what Gary said, there are definitely contingencies that need to be taken care of, but should we derail this effort over four people’s comments? No, not in my mind.”
Infante instantly retorted to the suggestion that opposition to the deal is isolated.
“As one of the four people I suppose Glenn is referring to, I’m actually somewhat incredulous that you would capitulate and conclude that four people are the extent of the opposition,” Infante said.
He noted the Shelton parcel is only 1 acre and will be reduced to 0.94 acre when a pedestrian easement is provided for the neighborhood. Town staff initially said between 3 and 4 acres is needed for a public works facility that will last well into the future.
“This doesn’t come anywhere close,” Infante said. “I think it is unreasonable, irresponsible and, as I described to (an Aspen Daily News reporter on Monday), reckless to be spending 1.8 million taxpayer dollars on a property that is going to be sufficient for a very limited period of time if at all.”
He said he is conscious that “we aren’t creating new property” but there are better options out there that need to be explored.
Realtor Mike Eaton spoke at the meeting and urged council to look at property he has listed at 100 Hougland Ranch Road in the Holland Hills area east of Basalt. The 8 acres there is for sale for $1.8 million.
Tennenbaum instantly dismissed that site as a viable option.
“The Hougland Ranch property is a disaster to begin with,” Tennenbaum said.
The biggest problems are poor access off Highway 82 and the location a couple miles outside of town boundaries, he said. In addition, to use it as a public works facility would require approval of a rezoning request by Pitkin County.
“There’s a reason no one is buying it for $1.8 million,” Tennenbaum said. “I hope we don’t even go near that one.”
Councilman Ryan Slack agreed that Hougland Ranch Road and Highway 82 create a dangerous intersection. He said he has heard an estimate it would cost at least $500,000 to create a turn lane on the highway. He said he believes the Shelton property could meet the town’s needs but also suggested the town might want to engage with a real estate agent to seek options that might not be apparent.
Council voted unanimously to continue consideration of the real estate contract until at least Oct. 27 and possibly later. Council members directed their staff to try to resolve outstanding issues with the seller. Those issues weren’t disclosed after the council met earlier in the night in a closed-door session.
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The Aspen City Clerk’s Office is looking toward the next, next election in 2021 with two council seats and a mayoral race up for a decision, and an added focus on coronavirus safety when early voting begins in February.