Basalt petition drive aims to resolve Pan and Fork controversy
A BRIEF HISTORY
The Pan and Fork site has a long and convoluted history. Here is the condensed version.
The town teamed with Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. in August 2011 to buy the mobile home park. The town bought 2.9 acres adjacent to the Roaring Fork River for a park. CDC kept 2.3 acres closest to Two Rivers Road, between the Rocky Mountain Institute office and Midland Bridge. The town paid for the removal of the trailers, relocation of residents and preparation of the CDC part for development.
The town government organized the Our Town Planning effort in 2014 and engaged hundreds of citizens to help determine the future of the site. Then it formed the Downtown Area Advisory Committee to explore how to turn the planning into reality. The council hasn’t nailed down what amount of development it would find acceptable on the site but authorized its staff to negotiate with a development firm that has an option to buy the site. That developer, Lowe Enterprises, had been working on a proposal.
A group of prominent Basalt-area residents launched a petition drive Monday to get a question on the April ballot for the town to buy 2.3 acres of the Pan and Fork site and preserve most of it as a park.
The group — Pan and Fork River Park Committee — is circulating a petition that shoots for three goals. First, it proposes an ordinance directing the Town Council to sign a contract to buy 2.3 acres owned by Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. for $3 million. The council could either approve the ordinance or place it on the April 5 ballot.
Second, the petition designates that 1.8 acres of the land would be dedicated as park and 0.5 acres would be available for development.
Third, it would get the council to send a funding question to the ballot that would ask town voters to authorize issuance of bonds for as much as $3 million plus interest and to raise property taxes to repay the bonds.
The petition drive would essentially take the council out of the debate and ask voters to resolve the controversial issue.
Cathy Click, a spokeswoman for the petition committee, said the petition isn’t meant to be confrontational with the council.
“We’re taking a leadership role,” she said. “It takes the Our Town Planning (effort) and dots the I’s.”
The Pan and Fork site has a long, complicated history (see related story on page A7). Click said the significance of the property became clearer after the mobile homes were removed from the site.
The petition committee believes it is important for the town to purchase the site so it has complete control of the future and it could deliberate the future without the pressure of a development application. Few other Colorado towns have the opportunity to create an “unbeatable” river park, the group said in its materials.
“This is a legacy opportunity for the town of Basalt,” the committee said.
The committee’s current membership includes three former Town Council members — Jon Fox-Rubin and Katie Schwoerer, both of Basalt, and Pete McBride, who now lives in Aspen but retains strong connections to Basalt. The committee also includes Click and Greg Shugars, both members of the Downtown Area Advisory Committee, and Mark Harvey, a Roaring Fork Valley native.
Signatures being collected
The group is collecting signatures on the petition and handing out blank petitions at Cafe Bernard for supporters to circulate, Click said.
They must gather signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters as of the last election to force the council to take action on the petition. That means they will have to get about 300 signatures at minimum, Click said.
The council has to certify any question for the ballot before the end of January, so the committee will have to act fast with its proposed ordinance.
The proposal includes a sales contract for the Community Development Corp. property. Click said the purchase price was worked out with the seller.
“CDC is cooperating,” she said.
Michael McVoy, president of Community Development Corp., confirmed that the nonprofit organization is working with the committee and agreed to the price.
By keeping most of the property as a park, the park proponents hope to get funds from the Pitkin and Eagle county open space programs as well as Great Outdoors Colorado. That would reduce the risk on town property taxpayers.
Free-market residential banned
The ordinance also spells out what can be done with the property if the town acquires it.
“Mostly, park is what we feel is wanted by the community,” Click said.
The eastern portion of Community Development Corp.’s property along Two Rivers Road would remain park. The western part, closest to the Rocky Mountain Institute office, would be available for restaurants, retail or other commercial development.
“Residential development is not allowed, unless it is restricted as housing for public-serving employees, including police, fire, teachers or others,” the petition group said in its materials.
Click said the dividing line in the Pan and Fork would be an imaginary one extended onto the property from Midland Spur. To the west of that line would be the development.
The group figures a maximum footprint of about 23,000 square feet would be possible on the piece of ground designated for development. The group isn’t defining if development should be in one building or more, Click said.
One contingent of Basalt residents and property owners has promoted development at the Pan and Fork as a way to revitalize downtown and promote a strong economy. That contingent has promoted as much as 75,000 square feet of development. Click said no one from that contingent was approached to be part of the committee, but they hope the petition appeals to all Basalt residents as a way to reach a resolution.
“We really would like for all sides to get behind this,” she said.
Lots of questions remain
Town Manager Mike Scanlon said Town Attorney Tom Smith is assessing the legality of the proposed ordinance. A report isn’t expected for several days, according to Scanlon.
There also are questions about timing. A citizens’ initiative triggers a specific process that includes certifying signatures and allowing for a curing period, if necessary. That leaves little time for the petition committee to collect and submit signatures because ballot questions must be finalized in January. The council is scheduled to meet Jan. 12 and 26.
Scanlon said it is possible the council could agree with the concept and place a question on the ballot without the signature collection. He said there are two ways of looking at the initiative process. One view is that it would be a welcome way to reach resolution on the Pan and Fork. In addition, citizens’ initiatives tend to get residents involved.
On the other hand, the council is the town’s elected representatives.
“I think the council gets elected to make tough decisions,” Scanlon said.
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