Basalt weighs in on future | AspenTimes.com

Basalt weighs in on future

About 70 Basalt residents seemed to agree in a community forum Monday night that they want to seize an opportunity to create more access to the Roaring Fork River.

It was tougher to gauge what they think needs to be done to revitalize downtown. Opinions during a town hall version of open-mic night ranged from leaving conditions at "status quo" to building an upper-end hotel.

The public meeting was billed as a chance for residents to express their vision for the future of Basalt. While it was sponsored by the town of Basalt, it didn't have the feel of a government meeting; it was moderated by journalist Paul Andersen and emphasized public input.

Michael Teschner set the tone early when he urged Basalt officials to take steps at the Pan and Fork Mobile Home site that would put Basalt on the map. Building a hotel won't bring people to Basalt necessarily, he said, but creating a world-renowned sculpture park would create the town's identity and attract people.

Teschner said the town government cannot think about riverside development in terms of what a developer claims to need. It has to be for the benefit of the town. He said riparian access is too difficult for a town that boasts two rivers.

"You need a bloody dog to find the walkway," he said.

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Aspen Junction resident Steve Chase agreed that the riverfront should be "sacrosanct" when the Pan and Fork is redeveloped.

"As a community, we look at the river, and that's what we want to recapture," he said.

For that reason, Chase said he supports a Nov. 5 Basalt ballot question that seeks voter approval for a $5 million bond issue. The town wants the revenue to speed a project that will ease the flood threat of the Roaring Fork River in the vicinity of the Pan and Fork.

Architect Gino Rossetti said he supports the idea of providing access to the river and creating a project that would benefit Basalt. However, he feels something should be done in addition to creating open space.

"That would get pretty damn boring, too," he said.

Rossetti said a portion of the Pan and Fork site could be developed while still providing public access to the river. The nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. owns the portion of the Pan and Fork site closest to Two River Road. It envisions development on the site, but officials say their plans are adjustable. (See related story.)

Speakers at the meeting expressed a wide range of views of what Basalt needs. Commercial property owner Norm Clasen said he fears downtown is going to "fall asleep and die" if some type of revitalization isn't pursued. He said he didn't necessarily disagree with Teschner's idea of a sculpture park, but other options exist. Other speakers supported development of an upper-end hotel, either at the Pan and Fork or at other core properties that might be available for redevelopment, such as the current Clark's Market building.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Clasen was longtime Basalt resident Polly Pollard. She wants the town to preserve the status quo. She said she wants views preserved and nature favored over development.

"I know that it's not good for business," she said.

Ken Larson expressed similar sentiments. "If somebody builds a luxury hotel that's five stories high, I'm probably going to leave," he said.

Cam Davies, one of the founders of the successful Basalt Sunday Market, made a well-received suggestion to use redevelopment opportunities to create a first-class preschool. Attracting and retaining young families is a key ingredient to Basalt's future, she said.

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt built off that reasoning by urging people to think in terms of creating a community where people want to live. Those attributes also will attract tourists, she said.

Whitsitt said there is a blank slate for what happens at the Pan and Fork site — and a golden opportunity to enhance Basalt.

"Build it for the people that live there," she said.

The meeting concluded with no definitive direction, but Andersen said there are lots of ideas to build off of in future dialogues.

scondon@aspentimes.com