Basalt mayoral candidate questions Basalt park expansion

The corner of the former Pan and Fork property at Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue will be purchased by Basalt town government and added to a riverside park. From downtown, it preserves a 'big V' of undeveloped space.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

Part of the proposed solution to Basalt’s latest and greatest land-use battle is for a development group to sell about 1 acre of vacant land at the former Pan and Fork site to the town government for expansion of a riverside park.

Basalt Town Council approved the first reading of an ordinance Feb. 11 to use sales tax revenue dedicated for parks, open space and trails to buy the land for $1.34 million. The sale, which needs to be approved in a second reading, would provide what’s been labeled a “big V” of open space and view shed, with the narrow end of the “V” at the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue.

While the first reading was approved unanimously, Councilman Bill Infante indicated at a mayoral candidates’ forum the night before that he might have something more to say about the purchase at council’s later deliberations.

Infante said he realizes that there is a “sacredness” of preserving the “big V” among some quarters of residents in Basalt. However, he said he has reached out to numerous architects, urban planners and landscape designers for their opinions and found little support for using such prime ground to expand a park.

“None of them have applauded the big V as a landscape architectural marvel to be applauded,” Infante said. “They have suggested quite the contrary, that sacrificing the corner parcel of land, which is the highest-valued (part), that would have integrated the Pan and Fork property with Midland Avenue, it would have facilitated the foot traffic that might have contributed to the vibrancy that we want.

“I would have to defer to those experts,” Infante said at the forum.

The other two mayoral candidates, Bill Kane and Rob Leavitt, endorsed the purchased with little debate.

As proposed, the town would buy the acre from Basalt River Park LLC, a development group fronted by local businessman Tim Belinski. The group also is seeking approval for about 56,000 square feet of mixed residential and commercial development along Two Rivers Road. The development would be restricted to the western half of the property. A 3,000-square-foot restaurant would be integrated with the park.

An earlier plan by a different development group contemplated a 150,000-square-foot condominium hotel on the site. That proposal was never formalized after running into opposition from residents at an open house.

Kane said spending $1.34 million to expand a riverside park “is a great value.” The sales tax dedicated to parks, open space and trails generates about $1.2 million annually, so the town has the money for this project without neglecting other pursuits, he said.

Leavitt also said the purchase is a good deal.

“That’s exactly what the parks, open space and trails fund is supposed to do,” he said.

Infante said the question shouldn’t be if the town is getting a good value for $1.34 million. Instead, it’s how else the funds could have been spent. He noted there is about $4.5 million to $5 million in the open space fund.

“One of two things is going on,” he told an audience of about 50 people at the Roaring Fork Weekly Journal forum at Element hotel. “We’re either not spending the money for the purposes of executing the public will or we’re taxing you guys too much.”

Infante suggested the public should pressure council to spend those funds rather than collect them.

“The public should be asking, ‘What in the hell are you doing with our money?’” he said. “Why haven’t you spent it? Because there are a lot of great projects that we could be financing.

“We should be building more trails to distinguish our community as a mountain biking mecca, a hiking mecca, to compete with Fruita, Moab and others,” Infante continued.

Basalt is surrounded by public lands. Colorado Parks and Wildlife owns the Basalt State Wildlife Area to the north and west of town. The Bureau of Land Management owns hillsides to the south and west, at Light Hill and the Crown.

When asked after the forum, where he sees opportunities to build more trails, Infante suggested additional connections to the Glassier and Buckhorn trails on the Crown. Currently, the trail paralleling Southside Drive and the Willits Lane Trail provide connections to the Rio Grande Trail, which runs by the Glassier and Buckhorn trailheads.