Group concerned Basalt is missing opportunity at Pan and Fork
A group of Basalt residents is concerned that the opportunity to develop the former Pan and Fork site and add vitality downtown is slipping away because of the town government’s slow pace.
The diverse group of 12 members — who ranged from a water attorney to a former town manager in Basalt — expressed frustration that the Town Council isn’t moving quickly enough to take advantage of an uptick in real estate cycles.
The frustration is “boiling over” among a sizable contingent of town residents who want a portion of the site developed, according to former Town Manager Bill Kane. Watching the council deliberate on the issue is like watching Iranian officials work on a nuclear treaty, according to Kane. It’s taking an unnecessarily long time, he said, and actions aren’t always as they may seem.
“My concern is the process gets stalled,” Kane said.
That was the universal feeling among members of the group in a recent informal gathering. Brian Dillard, who organized the meeting, said he was shocked by the council’s July 28 decision to hire an outside consultant to look at the economic viability of various development scenarios with different sizes of projects. The process is expected to take two months.
Town officials said the study is needed to determine if a public subsidy is warranted or if potential variances are necessary. The group didn’t feel the work was necessary.
Basalt resident Kathleen Cole asked why the council has to add another two months to a planning process that has already taken well over a year.
“It’s a stall tactic. It’s obvious,” said Joe Ciri, another member of the group.
“Betrayed” by some council actions
Kane said Basalt residents charted a course for redevelopment of lands such as the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park in 2002, when it released a river master plan. The document provided a blueprint for easing flood threats on the Roaring Fork River and redeveloping riverside lands.
The town teamed with a nonprofit organization to purchase slightly more than 5 acres in 2011. Town voters approved a $5 million bond in November 2013 to provide money for flood mitigation, construction of a park and preparation of part of the site for redevelopment. It was passed by 66 percent of the voters in the election.
The town followed up with the “Our Town” planning process in winter and spring 2014 that drew hundreds of participants. The town always planned to develop the half of the site closest to the Roaring Fork River into a park. The current debate is over how much development will be allowed on the roughly 2.4 acres closest to Two Rivers Road. The vast majority of participants in the initial planning process wanted development on the site.
Ciri said he was encouraged by the community input but discouraged by the reaction of some members of the Town Council when the direction wasn’t what they wanted to see.
“They decided to throw that away,” Ciri said. “I’m concerned about the way the council is handling the input from the community.”
Bill Hegberg said he felt “betrayed” when some members of the council decided they wouldn’t follow the recommendations from residents and a special committee working on a plan for the site.
Ire directed at mayor
Much of the group’s ire was directed at Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, a proponent of minimizing development on the site.
Gino Rossetti, a member of the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission, said the process has been frustrating at times, but “some good” is still coming from it.
“I really think we have an incredible opportunity to make something happen, something far beyond an open park,” he said. The residents who are seeking a project to spur vitality need to stay vigilant in the process, Rossetti said.
“My gut feel is to (prevent) the council, Jacque, from making really stupid decisions, to help her so we are staying true and not dropping this thing,” Rossetti said.
Both sides in the Basalt debate — the proponents of development and opponents — claim they have the support of Basalt’s silent majority. Growth foes said the initial “Our Town” planning didn’t include options for limited development, so they feel the process wasn’t valid.
Thus far, public participation has been divided evenly enough to force a compromise. An initial plan contemplated roughly 150,000 square feet of development on the site. That’s been whittled down to about 75,000 square feet in current planning. A boutique hotel, currently proposed at 47 rooms, remains a centerpiece of the discussion.
Dillard said there is a “groundswell” of support for development. Kane said it is broad-based support. He claimed that proponents have been unfairly portrayed by critics and real estate agents, people tied to development and business owners and operators.
Kane claimed Whitsitt has rallied a “handful” of opponents late in the process to advocate for keeping more of the land as a park. That contingent has had too great of influence on the council’s direction, he said.
“It seems like every meeting, we lose a little more ground,” Kane said.
Whitsitt declined comment on the story when contacted Thursday.
Important first step
The pro-growth group was firm in the belief that the Pan and Fork site is an important first step to a greater development and vitality plan needed for Basalt.
“We stall here, we’re done,” Kane said.
Dillard said the debate over the Pan and Fork has spurred some people to say Basalt shouldn’t grow anymore. “We’re here; close down the walls; we want the town to stay as it is,” is how he characterized their attitude.
The group he assembled doesn’t believe that strategy has worked for the town or made it sustainable. Dillard noted that a prior Town Council created a tight urban corridor, limiting how large the town would grow. The concept was to fill in the existing boundaries before expanding.
The Pan and Fork project is the first opportunity for infill, but some residents are still opposing it, Dillard said. He feels it is an appropriate place to increase density because it is within walking distance of downtown.
Cole said other mountain towns, such as Crested Butte, are successful because they are surrounded by great natural beauty that attracts people but also offer dense, compact cores with hotels, restaurants and shops. Adding a hotel and residences at the Pan and Fork helps add density that Basalt needs, she said.
“That’s the there, there,” Cole said.
Kane said advancing with a project at the Pan and Fork makes it more likely that investors will buy the former Clark’s Market site and redevelop. Larry Yaw said that revitalization is key to attracting new, younger families and individuals to Basalt. Rossetti agreed.
“The hotel is the beginning of new people, bringing in new people to feel this place,” Rossetti said. “People talk about the vitality of the park — I just smile.”
Dillard said he was encouraged that the council voted 5-0 on July 28 to endorse the direction of the Planning Commission on a master plan that contemplates a hotel and residential development on the Pan and Fork site. He said he wants to build off that momentum and redirect the Pan and Fork discussion.
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