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Library plan foes insist there’s no El Jebel envy

Could Basalt be suffering from a case of El Jebel envy?

A citizens’ group comprised mostly of Basalt town residents has presented stiff competition to the Basalt Regional Library District’s plan to build a new facility in El Jebel.

The district currently serves people living between Old Snowmass and El Jebel with a single, 3,400-square-foot library in Lions Park in downtown Basalt.

Several members of Citizens for One Library have staunchly lobbied to keep the library in or near downtown Basalt every time over the last four years that the district has considered a new facility.

But now that a proposal for a 16,000-square-foot library in El Jebel is before voters, some members of the group insist that location isn’t their primary motivation.

“Regardless of where you live, you should oppose this plan,” said Charlie Cole, co-chair of Citizens for One Library. He said the “overambitious” size of the library facilities and their financial burden on taxpayers are the prime reasons for the opposition.

Jim Paussa, another organizer of Citizens for One Library, also dismissed the location in El Jebel as the fuel for the campaign against the proposal.

He said other sites examined for the library were ruled out because the library district wants to build too big of a facility. The site offered for lease by the Crawford family in El Jebel worked only because it is outside a town core and in an area considered sprawl, according to Paussa.

Therefore, it’s not so much that the El Jebel site is the problem, he said. It’s that the big proposal on the El Jebel site is the problem.

“It’s just a big monster they’re trying to dump on the midvalley,” said Paussa.

The library district is seeking voter approval Nov. 4 to borrow $5.1 million that would be paid back through higher property taxes. The funds would be used to construct a new library in El Jebel, and remodel and slightly expand and upgrade the current facility in Basalt.

A separate ballot question seeks to increase operating funds to $1.3 million per year.

The library district’s board of directors considered, but ruled out, building the library at two sites it examined in the heart of old Basalt. It determined that the Lions Park property, where the library is currently housed, isn’t large enough to handle a major expansion, and that the town-owned Levinson property, home to the popular Taqueria El Nopal, also had too many constraints.

When Citizens for One Library emerged earlier this month, their campaign literature claimed their opposition isn’t an “east versus west” issue, meaning east and west Basalt. A detailed public planning process “might well determine” that downtown Basalt, Willits or even El Jebel is the best place to build, the literature said.

Peter Frey, a Basalt resident and member of the library district’s board of directors, believes Citizens for One Library’s beef is all about location and not about two facilities or any other issue. If the district was promoting one library in El Jebel, he thinks Citizens for One Library would still be fighting the proposal.

“One library versus two is really a red herring,” Frey said.

There does appear to be some fuel, or at least circumstantial evidence, for his assertion. Cole was a member of the Levinson Advisory Group, a citizens’ committee that negotiated on the town’s behalf with the library district to sell a site that would keep the library in town. Those negotiations failed.

Paussa has been involved to varying degrees in the library’s search for a site for four years. He has always supported keeping the library in Basalt.

The steering committee for the opposition group also includes Basalt Town Manager Tom Baker and Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens, who both live in town. Stevens has consistently lobbied to keep the library in Basalt.

The committee’s members also include Jim Light, the founder of the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy. The Conservancy purchased land at the Levinson property and, at one time, worked on a development proposal that hinged on sharing some facilities with an adjacent library.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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