Basalt votes 5-2 to support open space purchase
BASALT – The Basalt Town Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to chip in $500,000 for a proposed open space purchase that has become somewhat clouded by controversy.
Although some of the majority on the council expressed reluctance, they ultimately approved joining Pitkin and Eagle counties in the purchase. Critics contended that the $5 million the governments are paying is too much for the 145-acre Saltonstall ranch on Hook Spur Road in the Emma area.
Councilwoman Anne Freedman said the benefits outweigh the possibility the governments are overpaying.
“It’s possible we’ll lose this and it will be mega-mansions,” she said.
Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane lobbied hard to get the council to join the counties in the deal. The proposal initially appealed to town officials because it sterilizes property just beyond Basalt’s boundaries, he noted. Plus it provides access to the Crown, 9,000 acres of federal lands administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
The prior Basalt Town Council passed a resolution last spring expressing support for the deal and pledging $500,000. Three members on the board have changed since that vow of support.
Basalt’s contribution is 10 percent of the purchase price. Eagle County’s open space program is contributing $2 million, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails is adding $1.8 million, the Midvalley Trails Committee is spending $50,000, and Great Outdoors Colorado approved a $600,000 grant.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt supported the purchase last spring when she was a councilwoman, but she reversed course Tuesday.
“I know it’s the night before the wedding, but I’m not walking down the aisle,” Whitsitt said.
Whitsitt said that people who know her know she supports conservation efforts. She previously served on the Aspen Valley Land Trust board of directors, she noted. She expressed support for negotiating a conservation easement on the agricultural parcel rather than an outright purchase. The land trust regularly obtains a conservation easement and allows the land to remain used for ranching, she said. Not pursuing a conservation easement was a “deal breaker” for her, she said.
“I also feel we committed too quickly on this,” Whitsitt said.
Councilman Rick Stevens questioned why Basalt was spending so much of its open space funds outside the town boundary. In addition, people he has talked to are concerned about the ranch being converted to public, recreation use.
“I’m 80 percent ‘no’ and 20 percent ‘yes'” on the deal, he said.
It was uncertain if the entire deal would fall through if Basalt pulled out or if other contributors would make up the $500,000 difference. It was suggested that Great Outdoors Colorado, also known as GoCo, would withdraw its grant if Basalt reneged.
“I’m not too concerned about losing face with GoCo,” Stevens said.
Freedman responded that Basalt had a right to reconsider because three board positions turned over since it expressed support for the expenditure, but she felt reversing course would harm Basalt’s standing with Great Outdoors Colorado.
The council approved the first of two readings of an ordinance authorizing the expenditure of $500,000 to help with the Saltonstall purchase. A second reading and public hearing will be held July 24.
Freedman was joined by Robert Leavitt, Glenn Rappaport, Karin Teague and Herschel Ross in support of the open space purchase. Whitsitt and Stevens voted against it.
The purchase is due to be complete later this year.
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