Basalt’s high-risk flood sites examined
BASALT ” The eventual fate of 88 families who live in an area of Basalt that is highly susceptible to flooding could be settled by a $50,000 study that’s supposed to be completed within a month.
A consultant working for the governments of Basalt, Pitkin and Eagle counties is studying if there is a viable way to build replacement housing within Basalt’s boundaries for residents of the imperiled Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park and Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park. The Roaring Fork park is home to 51 households. The Pan and Fork has about 37.
The study will help solve Basalt’s biggest political quagmire, which also has ensnared Pitkin County. Here’s the issue:
The owner of Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park wants to build replacement housing near Basalt High School for both trailer parks. David Fiore and his firm, Western Peak, have the option to buy land by the school. He has teamed with the Catholic Archdiocesan Housing of Denver to propose an affordable-housing project there.
The site is outside of Basalt in unincorporated Pitkin County. The majority of Basalt officials don’t believe that the site is appropriate for urban-style development, so Fiore’s proposal was never even reviewed by the town last year.
Town studies show that the mobile home parks in the heart of Basalt are at high risk of catastrophic flooding. Makeshift levies built over the past three decades are all that separate the affordable housing enclaves from the Roaring Fork River. This year’s high snowpack and tremendous runoff potential have residents nervous and public officials anxious about the threat.
However, the mood in Basalt favors controlling growth and maintaining a tight urban growth boundary. Most officials have been reluctant to go against the direction favored by voters in the last two elections. The council majority said they would prefer a replacement housing project, or projects, within the town’s boundaries.
So Fiore changed tactics. He asked the Pitkin County commissioners to amend the land-use code in a way that would allow him to apply to them for approval of the affordable housing project.
If he is successful, he wants to redevelop the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park site without encroaching in the portion susceptible to flooding.
The county asked Basalt to weigh in on Fiore’s request to build affordable housing near the high school. A binding agreement between the governments gives Basalt extra leverage. It says Pitkin County won’t approve large affordable housing project on the town’s fringe unless it gets people out of an unsafe situation and doesn’t go against the town’s land-use master plan.
Tuesday, the council drafted a letter asking the county to wait for the results of an important study before acting on Fiore’s request. The study, by Economic Planning Systems of Denver, will determine if Fiore’s proposal is the only solution or if replacing affordable housing for the trailer park residents can be located elsewhere.
“I don’t believe in the fact that we only have one option,” said Basalt Councilman Gary Tennenbaum.
Councilman Peter McBride said he was elected in April, in part, because he vowed to stick to a tight urban growth boundary. He said he couldn’t advise Pitkin County to approve or deny Fiore’s request until the study tells him what tools are available.
Councilwomen Katie Schwoerer and Amy Capron concurred that no recommendation could be made without results of this latest study. Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said she disagreed with a previous council’s decision to exclude Fiore’s property from the urban growth boundary.
“I believe the Archdiocese should be allowed to build there,” Whitsitt said. “But I can’t hang out there without the study.”
Mayor Leroy Duroux also said he supported Fiore’s earlier attempt to build an affordable housing project near the high school. However, Duroux said he also supported the study in hopes that it could finally resolve the quagmire over the trailer parks.
The danger facing the trailer park residents has been debated for 30 years, but no solutions have been found. Officials hope this latest study points the way to the promised land.
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