Basalt weighs preserving riverfront land | AspenTimes.com
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Basalt weighs preserving riverfront land

Basalt voters might get a chance next year to prove if they are willing to pay to keep their river corridors free from development.

Town officials began considering a plan Wednesday to seek tax funds to get as many as three valuable pieces of property into public hands.

Although discussion is in a formative stage, it may lead to a November 2001 ballot question that would ask town voters to approve a property tax hike to buy some or all of the three properties.

At a minimum, the Town Council is prepared to ask voters to approve nearly $2 million in bonding to buy property along the Roaring Fork River from Dan and Lynn Levinson (see related story).

Bonding authority may also be sought to help a citizens’ initiative to buy some or all of the Riverwalk property from Frieda Wallison. Riverwalk is a highly visible property on Midland Avenue along the Fryingpan River.

Town officials have also expressed an interest in acquiring what’s known as the confluence property, a small parcel where the Fryingpan flows into the Roaring Fork.

The three properties represent some of the last undeveloped riverfront land within Basalt.

Mayor Rick Stevens said the proposals could be popular because it appeals to several special interests. The purchases could preserve open space, establish parks, guarantee fishermen access, protect wildlife habitat and would keep development out of the floodplain.

“You’re hitting on all cylinders,” he said.

Help from trust

An organization called the Trust for Public Lands may help Basalt acquire the properties by conducting sophisticated polls to see the level of support for bonding or even by fronting money for purchases.

TPL has $100 million available for purchases nationwide, according to Doug Robotham, Colorado state director for the nonprofit organization.

“That allows us to move fast, tying up properties that need to be tied up,” he said.

TPL often provides funds for purchases or secures options while communities or organizations line up financing. TPL then gets paid back.

The trust was invited to Basalt by a citizens’ group exploring the purchase of some or all of Riverwalk. That group lobbied the Town Council to reject Wallison’s development proposal on the Riverwalk land. Now it’s following up with an effort to buy the land or buy part of it and reduce the amount of Wallison’s development.

During an informal discussion with the Town Council yesterday, Robotham said the Trust for Public Land may be able to play an expanded role in Basalt.

“If we could help you take a property off the market, we’d like to do that,” said Robotham.

And when the organization gets involved, it usually gets results.

“We close on 95 percent of the options we enter into,” said Robotham. “It’s kind of a badge of courage as well as a stamp of credibility to close on that many options.”

What will voters support?

Robotham said an initial assessment of Basalt indicates that residents would support some level of a property tax hike to buy riverfront properties. Just how much they would ante up is the critical question.

“I think $2.5 million is imminently doable,” said Adam Eichberg, TPL’s associated director for public finance.

He said a detailed survey of residents’ sentiments would be highly advisable before approaching them in an election. TPL hires professional pollsters, analyzes results, then either helps craft ballot questions and campaigns or advises communities to abandon the effort and try again later.

“We’ve been very successful around the country and around Colorado helping communities like yours,” said Eichberg.

One key to successful efforts, he stressed, is local support and initiative, both of which exist in Basalt.

Eichberg and Robotham intend to work further with citizens on the Riverwalk purchase plan, and they agreed to discuss a broader course of action with the town government.

“It’s time we said we’re totally into working with you guys,” said Councilman Dave Reed.


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