Basalt sells land to nonprofit for $400,000
The Basalt town government became a land speculator last week by flipping part of a property that it purchased 18 months ago with open space funds.
The town sold 16,000 square feet of land to the Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve and protect the rivers of the valley. The six-year-old conservancy plans to build an office and education center on the land along with a community meeting building.
Its preferred site was the Levinson property, which the town government purchased in April 2002. The town bought six acres from Dan and Lynn Levinson for $1.9 million.
Although the money came from the open space fund, town officials said from the start they intended to sell the half of the property closest to Two Rivers Road because it allegedly wasn’t desirable as open space. The town also plans to sell additional land fronting Two Rivers Road for commercial and residential development. Negotiations to sell some of the land to the library district fell through.
The Levinson property is just west of downtown Basalt, where the popular Taqueria el Nopal restaurant is located. The conservancy bought vacant land. The restaurant is on the part of the property the town wants to sell to free-market developers.
The half of the property closest to the Roaring Fork River will be preserved as a park and open space.
Restores open space fund
The $400,000 paid by the conservancy will be returned to the open space fund, according to town manager Tom Baker. A ballot question that established the open space and trails district allows property to be sold, but stipulates that proceeds must be returned to the open space fund.
The conservancy’s contract requires it to pay $5,000 in earnest money and another $75,000 by Dec. 31, 2003. The contract requires the conservancy to pay $160,000 each of the next two years, along with interest of $3,520 each year.
Officials with both the conservancy and the town said they felt the sales price was fair.
Jody Edwards, an attorney representing the town, said the town didn’t get an appraisal before the sale. The sale price was established by a committee of citizens that included Charlie Cole, Howard Cohen and Jim Kent. The Town Council accepted the committee’s recommendations with little discussion last Tuesday night.
At that meeting, Edwards noted that the conservancy purchased a triangular parcel and that not all of the 16,000 square feet can be developed. That warranted a discounted sales price, he said.
However, the conservancy didn’t receive a discount because of its nonprofit status, according to Jeanne Beaudry, executive director of the conservancy.
“There really wasn’t that distinction,” she said. “The town needed to recoup money for the open space fund.”
Baker said the sale price reflects the town government’s belief that the conservancy and its educational facility is an important community asset. While it didn’t receive a nonprofit discount, it didn’t pay the full free-market price, either, he said.
In the free-market ballpark
The conservancy plans to eventually build a 5,500-square-foot building for staff offices, exhibits and labs, according to Jim Horn, a member of the organization’s board of directors.
The property is “an ideal spot” because it is near the Roaring Fork River and adjacent to a pond, he said. Kids will be able to tour the property as part of the education program.
The conservancy’s second phase will be construction of a 2,850-square-foot community meeting facility. No deadline has been set for construction. Additional space may be added at an undetermined time to the office building, Horn said.
Based on the 8,350 square feet of the first two phases combined, the conservancy paid about $48 per developable square foot for property that wouldn’t be considered prime commercial space.
The price for land zoned for commercial uses in the Basalt area ranges from $50 to $65 per developable square foot, according to industry sources. The price depends on the location.
The conservancy is at the low end of that range, but not out of the ballpark.
There is a question about the soil stability in the area. A study performed for the library district indicated it would have to spend $200,000 to stabilize soils at a site adjacent to the land the conservancy purchased.
Horn said the town disputes the need for that work. It is something the conservancy will study with due diligence before closing a deal on the property, he said.
The conservancy plans to start fund-raising efforts immediately for the land. It will first turn to members of the Roaring Fork Club, a private golf and fishing club which helped found the conservancy, according to Horn.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.]
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