Is blight a good thing?
The new owners of a trailer park located in the heart of Basalt might try to have their neighborhood declared a “blight” to spark redevelopment.
Western Peak Limited Liability Co. is exploring several options to raise the funds for a new park and commercial development along the Roaring Fork River, according to David Fiore, managing partner of the investor group. One of the more innovative tools would require a determination that the 52-space Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park constitutes a “blight” for Basalt.
While the term sounds shameful, it is more of a legal definition than an economic or social condition. The town of Vail, for example, is applying the term to Lionshead, one of its base areas at its ski mountain, to raise close to $10 million in funding for various projects.
The designation has raised some snickering because Vail is one of the top-ranked resorts in North America. Lionshead is home to million-dollar condos, not dilapidated apartments in an inner-city ghetto.
But the Colorado Urban Renewal Law requires that a municipality determine that an area constitutes a “blight” before special funds get tapped for redevelopment.
The attractiveness of the designation is it allows something called tax increment financing, or TIF. Under TIF, bonds can be issued for redevelopment in anticipation that the redevelopment will bring an increase in property taxes, sales taxes or both. The bonds are repaid through the larger tax receipts.
In Vail’s case, the $10 million will be spent on improving or providing public amenities. In addition, Vail Resorts, the ski area owner, will invest tens of millions of dollars on redevelopment of private property, according to an article in The Vail Daily.
Another provision of Colorado law allows tax increment financing to be used even if a blight of an existing area isn’t an issue. Glenwood Springs applied that law to create a Downtown Development Authority to finance construction of a proposed parking structure, reconstruction of streets and possible construction of a theater. (The development authority’s work is on hold pending the outcome of litigation.)
Glenwood Springs didn’t have to declare that any area was a blight to form its Downtown Development Authority. The authority’s work was proposed to avoid areas turning into a blight, said one city government official.
In Basalt, Fiore’s group would need the town government’s blessing and participation to create an urban renewal effort. It’s questionable how labeling a neighborhood a “blight” would be received in a town where property values and civic pride have skyrocketed in recent years.
Some Basalt Town Council members cringed recently when an Aspen Times article referred to the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park as a “shanty town.” The Pan and Fork is next to the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park. Mayor Rick Stevens proposed writing a letter to the newspaper criticizing use of the term. The motion failed but other members also expressed concern over use of the term.
One Basalt official said it was too premature to discuss how the town government might react to a proposal from Fiore’s group to have the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park labeled a blight. Fiore also limited his discussion about the idea.
If tax increment financing is applied in Basalt, it would likely have to be spent on public amenities to gain political acceptance. Fiore’s project includes two large public components. His group plans to contribute half of the nine-acre trailer park site to the town for use as open space or a riverside park. In addition, they plan on building affordable housing ” some of which would replace the trailer park ” on different land.
The town government has placed a high priority on relocating at least some of the trailers out of the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park. Studies show some of the trailers are in danger of getting swept away by a flood.
Fiore stressed that tax increment financing and “blights” won’t be forced upon the town. His group plans to work closely with the town to come up with an acceptable proposal.
“There’s no reason for us to pursue a development plan that doesn’t meet the needs of the community,” he said.
There is no timetable for when a formal development application will be submitted.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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