Basalt, developer of Tree Farm project to meet on $860,000 debt, commercial development

The site plan for the Tree Farm project shows how development would be focused between Highway 82 and an existing water ski lake in El Jebel.
Woody Ventures/courtesy image

The Basalt Town Council wants to play “Let’s Make a Deal” with the developer of the Tree Farm project.

Town staff members and representatives of the Tree Farm team will meet today to see if they can negotiate a deal that lets the developer defer partial payment for a pedestrian underpass that was constructed beneath Highway 82. In return, Basalt wants concessions on the type of development the Tree Farm initially pursues.

The Tree Farm is required by their preliminary land-use approval from Eagle County to pay $857,505 for its share of the pedestrian underpass of Highway 82 at Willits at the time it seeks final approval. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and town of Basalt covered the cost of the project in 2014. A cost-sharing agreement said the Tree Farm would reimburse its share if it earned approvals.

The Eagle County commissioners voted 2-1 in June 2017 to approve 514,000 square feet of development. That includes as many as 340 residences, 60,550 square feet for a hotel and 74,000 square feet of commercial in addition to the lodging.

Tree Farm landowner and developer Ace Lane is preparing to submit his application for final approval in March, which would make the bill due in full. But Lane and his team are asking to divide the nearly $860,000 payment into three installments — with half or about $430,000 paid upon submitting the application, one-quarter or about $215,000 paid when 200,00 square feet of development is completed and the final quarter due when 400,000 square feet of development is completed.

A letter to Basalt staff from Dave Marrs, chief financial officer of Geronimo Ventures LLC, part of Lane’s team, said partial payment for the underpass needs to be deferred to make the economics of the project work better.

“(We) still need to reduce this upfront payment at the request of the lender to lower the cost for Phase I so we can make the math work,” Marrs wrote. “The condition of approval was to pay the full amount at Final Plan, that was before we realized we needed to do a small phase first.”

If Basalt and RFTA agree to reduce the initial payment, the approval condition could be revised by Eagle County.

“Paying for 100 percent of our share of an underpass in full now for Phase I which is 20 percent of the total project doesn’t pencil,” Marrs wrote.

Phase I would cover about 11.5 of the 43 acres that Lane plans to develop.

Basalt council members said at their meeting Tuesday night they would only approve the payment plan sought by Lane if the Tree Farm was willing to negotiate on some core issues.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum, who ran the meeting as mayor pro tem due to the absence of Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, said he wants Lane to agree to build “no commercial space” until the $860,000 is paid in full. If that isn’t acceptable to Lane, Tennenbaum said the $860,000 should be paid in full before any development begins.

The council was wary to approve Lane’s proposed payment plan because of the uncertainty over how long it will take for him to reach 200,000 and 400,000 square feet of development. Willits Town Center has taken nearly 20 years to reach about 400,000 square feet.

Basalt officials have long feared that shops and restaurants at the Tree Farm would compete with commercial spaces in Basalt and eat into the town’s sales tax base. The Tree Farm is in unincorporated Eagle County, so the Basalt sales tax doesn’t apply there.

The council voted 5-0 to seek a pledge for no commercial development at the Tree Farm until the underpass payment is paid in full. The council directed their staff to engage in negotiations. No one from the Tree Farm team was at the meeting, but Marrs is scheduled to meet today with Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney and assistant planning director James Lindt.