Fate of Bass Park rests with the voters
If Aspen’s proposed open space tax wins voter approval next month, one of the city’s first open space purchases could be among its most controversial.
While the proposed 0.5-percent sales tax received little debate at a sparsely attended election forum last night, use of the tax proceeds to preserve Bass Park generated a good deal of discussion on whether the small park might better serve the community as a site for affordable housing.
The city is seeking voter approval of the open space tax in Referendum 2B. The tax, to expire in 2025, would allow Aspen to borrow up to $38 million for the purpose of buying, maintaining and improving trail, recreation and open space properties and ancillary facilities. The maximum repayment cost would be $91 million.
Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards has suggested a city Open Space Board be created to advise the City Council on expenditures of the tax proceeds.
A separate question on the November ballot, Referendum 2D, links the fate of Bass Park to approval of the open space tax. An advisory question, 2D asks voters if the city should repay its housing fund $3.34 million plus interest in order to preserve Bass Park if the open space tax wins approval. The tax would provide the money to repay the housing coffers; the city used housing money and $100,000 in open space dollars to acquire the park in 1999.
The City Council has indicated that if either 2B or 2D fails at the polls, it intends to put affordable housing on the park, located at the corner of Hopkins Avenue and Monarch Street.
Longtime locals Hal Clark and Helen Klanderud, representing Friends of Bass Park, argued conversion of the park to housing will require yet another vote because some of the funds used to buy it were open space dollars. Conversion of open space requires voter approval.
They also decried the continual conversion of city open space for other purposes, citing a golf course and other housing among the developments that have gone on what was to be open space.
“This kind of an assault going on on the open space property – that’s why I got involved,” said Clark.
“We have to face the hard facts,” added Klanderud. “There’s always going to be a problem with affordable housing here . let’s not keep eating our open spaces.”
Coming down passionately on the side of affordable housing was Allison Campbell, director of Aspen Central Reservations, who said she has watched friend after friend leave town because of the worker housing crunch.
Of the 26 people in her office, 18 are regular participants in housing lotteries, she said.
Campbell said she went down to the housing office to tally up some “heartbreaking” statistics: Five studio apartments available through a lottery this year attracted an average of 73 applicants. The 10 one-bedroom units up for grabs had an average of 121 applicants.
In all, she said, the housing office has conducted 47 lotteries so far this year involving 315 applicants. “Forty-seven people won. I’m here representing the 268 that lost,” Campbell said.
Bass Park has functioned as a park for about 30 years. The city leased the space for use as a park from Harry Bass until his death, when his estate decided to sell the property.
The park features mature trees planted by early supporters of the park and horseshoe pits. Its passive nature has made it a target for housing advocates, but Klanderud contended the city can’t build its way out of its housing shortage and shouldn’t sacrifice the park to try. “We will always need housing,” she said.
While passage of the open space tax is tied to the park’s preservation, the group backing that measure has mixed feelings about use of the tax proceeds for the park, conceded spokesman Bob Wade.
“I think there’s a variety of opinions within the group as to what the best use of that site is,” he said.
Tom Cardamone, director of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and a member of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board, urged approval of the open space to improve local governments’ ability to acquire valued parcels.
“We’re really looking forward to being able to partner more effectively with the city,” he said.
Many properties around Aspen that are currently open space are private parcels with development potential, noted Wade.
“Many of these lands in the next decade will be lost to development if we don’t act now,” he said.
First on the list, added Wade, are the continuing efforts to preserve Smuggler Mountain as open land.
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