Citzens’ committee debates park or hotel at Basalt site
Eight issues that frame Basalt’s downtown planning effort
The Downtown Area Advisory Committee will use eight questions/issues to frame their discussion over the next several weeks. They will be asked to recommend a plan for downtown revitalization for the Town Council by the end of the year.
The eight issues were compiled from an earlier phase of the “Our Town” planning process, which engaged hundreds of residents and people interested in Basalt. The issues were contained a report that consultants produced about the community engagement process.
The report can be found in its entirety at http://www.ourtownplanning.org.
1. Downtown Basalt needs additional hotel and hospitality services. The general consensus was that more hotel beds for varied market segments and a conference facility would be beneficial for the vitality of the downtown core. The hotel building should be of good quality and fit with the downtown character. It was suggested that repurposing existing buildings for hotel use is an option for gaining hotel beds for immediate use.
2. The Frying Pan and the Roaring Fork Rivers and their confluence are the most important natural asset of the Town of Basalt and their enhanced use is seen as essential to the vitality of the downtown. Citizens overwhelmingly support the idea that our location at the confluence of two gold medal fly fishing rivers is what makes us special and creating more access to them is a priority.
3. Citizens want a centrally located town square and diverse, creative use of parklands. A town square (village green) would provide a place to gather, linger and interact with the whole community.
4. There is concern that many of Basalt’s assets from trails to street alignments to connectivity from Old Town Basalt to Willits and Southside do not function to benefit the community. Basalt needs to establish a sense of arrival at each of its entrances.
5. The people of Basalt are beginning to see density as an alternative to sprawl and downtown density as a generator of vitality. People expressed a desire for housing for all segments of the population in and near downtown. The thoughtful increase of building height limits could be seen as a useful tool to increase density. The repurpose of existing buildings could be another means to address the density issue.
6. Art, both performing and visual, is a core value of the citizens of Basalt. This is reflected in the desire for the Wyly Art Center to remain in a prominent location in downtown. The Wyly Art Center and a performing arts building were the most common facilities shown on citizen drawings and were frequently mentioned in chat sessions.
7. A broad range of events and activities would greatly enhance civic life. There is a lack of interesting things to do keep people from considering downtown Basalt as a destination. It is clear that additional leadership must be provided to capitalize on citizen energy.
8. Continued economic viability depends on a diverse business base that offers products and services for all income levels. People made it clear that in order for Basalt to remain a viable community they want smaller scale community based retail choices such as a grocery store (Trader Joe’s was mentioned often) pharmacy and a sundry items store. Affordable commercial space is seen as essential for local businesses to thrive. The parking situation in downtown is untenable; creative solutions must be incorporated into all future development.
Ten Basalt residents appointed to help determine how to revitalize downtown wasted little time getting to the heart of the matter.
In just its second meeting Thursday, the Downtown Area Advisory Committee focused on whether the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site should be kept open for public access to the Roaring Fork River or if half should be dedicated to a boutique hotel. No decision was made, but members framed the issues in debate.
Committee member Steve Chase said he doesn’t want to block access to the river, but the town needs something beyond its natural resources to help spur revitalization. An “upscale lodging type of facility” would benefit the town in a number of ways, he said.
Committee member Tracy Bennett concurred. A facility is needed that could host events such as weddings and family reunions as well as provide a central place to stay for people exploring both ends of the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I’d like to see a really great, awesome boutique hotel,” Bennett said.
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A boutique hotel also has been promoted as a complement to the office and Innovation Center that the Rocky Mountain Institute is building adjacent to the old Pan and Fork site. Institute officials have said they anticipate people from around the world will be visiting to attend workshops on energy efficiency and sustainable energy use. They said that might create a demand for facilities that are more upscale than those that exist in the midvalley.
But committee member Gerry Terwilliger questioned whether the free market will provide a hotel in downtown Basalt. There are roughly 60 existing beds in two Basalt hotels, and the developer of Willits Town Center broke ground this fall on a 112-room hotel that will open by Thanksgiving 2015. He said he doesn’t believe the demand exists for another tourist accommodation.
Committee member Greg Shugars steered the debate in a different direction. He said access to the Roaring Fork River is a characteristic that shouldn’t be shortchanged. He noted that Hallam Lake has lost some of its special appeal in Aspen because views of it, let alone access, have been lost due to private development. Hallam Lake can now only be easily seen and approached from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.
“Public access is a really big deal, and when you give it up, you may never get it back,” Shugars said.
“I understand the argument for a hotel,” he said. But access to the river “is what’s going to differentiate us from other (towns), certainly in this valley.”
Committee member Julie Kolar raised another way of thinking about the issue. A hotel makes sense downtown because it is an appropriate place for density and it’s oriented toward pedestrians, she said. She and other committee members suggested that other downtown sites might be appropriate for the hotel.
The Pan and Fork is Basalt’s ground zero for revitalization focus. The 5.28-acre property was purchased by the town government and the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. The town is converting its half of the property, closest to the river, into a park and open space.
Community Development Corp. always intended to sell its half, closest to Two Rivers Road, to a developer. Some residents and elected officials want to consider converting the entire site into a park. However, Town Manager Mike Scanlon said recently that Community Development Corp. doesn’t want to sell the property for what Scanlon thought it is worth.
At some point, the Town Council will make the call on what happens at the Pan and Fork site. The council appointed the committee to make a recommendation by the end of the year. The Pan and Fork’s fate has already caused divisions in town. Some residents contend the community has spoken in favor of development on the Community Development Corp. half of the site.
More than 300 people interested in Basalt’s future submitted maps showing what they want to see on various downtown parcels. Those maps were condensed to three options that residents could vote for in an online vote. The preferred option included development at the site.
Downtown Area Advisory Committee member Chris Touchette said Thursday he thought the committee’s role was to flesh out that preference to a greater degree.
Terwilliger countered that the majority of residents might want the entire property to remain open space but their preference wasn’t an option in the earlier planning process. He said it is “loading the dice” to presume development is a given.
The committee is scheduled to meet the next several Thursdays to hash out the fate of the Pan and Fork site and other key questions (see sidebar at right). The meetings are at Town Hall at 4 p.m. and are open to the public.
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