Basalt, nonprofit partner aim to buy trailer park
December 17, 2010
BASALT – A sweeping effort is under way to convert a mobile home park in the heart of Basalt into a campus for nonprofit organizations, open space along the Roaring Fork River and long-term, safe housing for the trailer residents.
The town and the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. (RFCDC) have teamed to try to purchase the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, home to 38 families and individuals. If the deal goes through, RFCDC would build replacement housing on-site and elsewhere in Basalt for all trailer owners, according to Michael McVoy, a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors.
About 19 trailers would be cleared from 2.5 acres of the property closest to the river, and that land would be left as open space. The town would contribute roughly $1 million in open space funds and possible grants to acquire that land. That half of the property is in the floodway. Multiple studies commissioned by Basalt show the trailers would be imperiled by a major flood.
Another 19 trailers would be removed from 2.5 acres closest to Two Rivers Road. RFCDC is raising funds and financing to purchase that portion of the park.
McVoy indicated the total needed, including the town’s investment, is about $3 million.
The half of the property closest to the road would be made available for education-oriented organizations and nonprofits as well as some replacement housing, McVoy said. Rocky Mountain Institute and Colorado Mountain College have been approached about possible location to the campus. There’s vast potential for a nonprofit campus, McVoy said, with up to 50,000 square feet of commercial and office space envisioned.
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The land nearest the intersection of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue is envisioned for a signature commercial development – possibly retail and restaurant – befitting of downtown’s entrance, McVoy said.
Overall, he sees the project as defining Basalt’s direction.
“What this offers is a heart and soul for downtown Basalt,” said McVoy.
Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane was equally enthusiastic about the project’s potential to mold the town.
“This is the pivotal land parcel in the town,” Kane said. “This is kind of a stunning opportunity for the town.”
RFCDC is in discussions to acquire a one-year option to purchase the mobile home park from RNR Limited, whose principal is Basalt resident Renee Ritchie. McVoy said he hopes to reach an agreement early next year. RFCDC is supported by the Manaus Fund, an organization founded by Woody Creek philanthropist George Stranahan.
Jody Edwards, an attorney for the park owner, confirmed they have been approached. There have been discussions but there is no agreement, he said.
The Pan and Fork has been part of Basalt for decades, sandwiched between the Roaring Fork River to the south and Two Rivers Road to the north, and Midland Avenue to the east and Old Pond Park-Taqueria el Nopal to the west.
The town acquired the adjacent Levinson property to the west early in the 2000s and converted part of it into Old Pond Park. Some of the land has been sold to the Roaring Fork Conservancy for a proposed education river center. RMI signed an option this week to buy another portion of that land, where the Taqueria is located. McVoy said there is a possibility RMI might be interested in a site in the Pan and Fork parcel closer to downtown. If so, the land RMI just placed under option could be freed up for replacement housing.
Across the river from the eastern portion of the Pan and Fork is additional town-owned open space and the new Basalt library. The purchase of the Pan and Fork gives the community the ability to devote the heart of its river corridor to open space and sites for public and nonprofit institutions, Kane said.
If the public-private partnership manages to buy the trailer park and pursue its redevelopment plan, it also would represent a major step toward completing Basalt’s biggest goal over the last decade. A river master plan was completed in 2002, creating a blueprint for easing flood risks along the river corridor, restoring natural conditions and increasing public access to the rivers that define the town.
The motivating condition in the plan is getting trailer residents at the Pan and Fork and the nearby Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park “out of harm’s way.” A major flood could swamp major portions of both parks.
Basalt has regulations in place that require 100 percent replacement housing for the trailer residents if the parks are redeveloped. McVoy said helping those residents secure permanent, safe housing is a major part of the appeal of the project to RFCDC and the Manaus Fund, which invests in social justice efforts.
“We’re not just buying a trailer park. We’re buying the homes of people that have been there a really long time,” McVoy said.
Details of what type of replacement housing and how it will be funded haven’t been reached yet.
Kane said Basalt envisions a riverside park that has been restored to a natural setting. A makeshift levy put in place to prevent flood waters from swamping the Pan and Fork would be removed so the river could follow a more natural course. The new park would connect into Old Pond Park, putting roughly a half-mile of riverfront into the public’s hands.
McVoy said it will take an undetermined amount of time to turn the vision into reality. He said RFCDC and the Manaus Fund realize there are “hurdles.” But they are undaunted. The organizations were a big part of the successful effort to convert an old school in Carbondale into the Third Street Center, where about 33,000 square feet of space has been rented to nonprofit organizations.