Basalt Town Council, developer come closer on Pan and Fork proposal
A developer’s refinements to a plan for the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site in Basalt on Tuesday night have convinced the Town Council to advance their review to a deeper level.
Basalt River Park LLC, a group headed by businessman Tim Belinski, reduced the amount of free-market housing and increased community uses, in part by adding shared offices that could be used as incubator space or a nonprofit campus.
After listening to public comment and then deliberating for a short time, the council directed its staff to have the town’s financial consultant assess the finances of the project to make sure it is sound. The hope is that Ehlers & Associates can turn around the financial study by next month.
While council members expressed some reservations about aspects of the proposal, they also praised Belinski and his architect, Rich Carr, for responding to earlier council concerns.
“It looks pretty darn good, I have to say,” said Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, a critic of earlier development plans. “All in all, I have to say this has come so far since the beginning days.”
Later in her comments, Whitsitt expressed hope that the developer and council can seal a deal.
“I don’t know how we could screw it up, quite honestly,” she said.
Basalt River Park LLC refined its proposal after holding two exploratory meetings with the council in October and November.
“From our standpoint, the most significant and compelling physical changes have to do with converting the original plan from a neighborhood that was primarily residential — 80 percent of square footage — to now an equal mix of residential and commercial — 50-50,” said a memo from the applicant team to the town.
The proposed number of residences was decreased from 28 to 23 and the average size was reduced to 1,176 square feet, or about 500 square feet smaller than before. Belinski’s team is proposing six micro-apartments, six apartments and 11 free-market river cabins for a total of 27,055 square feet.
The proposed commercial uses include 6,000 square feet in a community building that includes food and beverage space; 7,500 to 10,000 square feet for the ArtBase community arts center; and 11,500 square feet for collaborative work space on two floors.
The proposal got a mixed review from members of the public that spoke.
“Well done. It’s been a long time coming,” said Basalt architect Ted Guy, who was a member of a citizens’ committee that looked at potential uses for the site during a town planning exercise three years ago. He said he had some minor disagreements with the proposal, mostly the square footage devoted to the river cabins. But he was optimistic.
“I think at long last we finally have something that will work,” Guy said.
Former councilman and planning commission member Bernie Grauer said the reworked plan has the potential to end years of community bickering over the site.
“This combines the best I’ve seen in 11 years,” he said.
The nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. owns the 2.3-acre site. Basalt River Park LLC has an option to purchase it. It is the third development team to take a crack at a project.
A central part of the proposal would be making 1 acre available to the town to purchase for expansion of the existing park along the Roaring Fork River.
The proposal didn’t please all observers in the crowd. Vicky Johnson said she wants to see an option that doesn’t include houses.
“I just can’t imagine that we can’t be more creative,” she said. “Those homes can go somewhere else.”
Mercedes Wilson, who introduced herself as recent arrival to Basalt, said she couldn’t understand why the town would want to obscure the views of the river with development. She urged the council to continue to press for something “better.”
Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle noted that a community survey some years ago showed only 7 percent of respondents supported residential uses on the special site. She said she wants to explore reducing the number of river cabins.
“What I’m aiming for is not to have an enclave of exclusivity plunked in the middle of public space,” Riffle said.
Councilman Auden Schendler said multiple years of debate over various development plans have shown that housing is a reality needed to make the numbers work.
“It’s a necessary evil in financing the project,” he said.
One aspect of the project that hasn’t been well defined yet is a community-uses building. As proposed, it would be a two-story building with a 3,000-square-foot footprint and 6,000 square feet total. It would interact with the park, placing public restrooms and a visitors’ center on the ground floor. The second story would feature a community meeting room, food vendors and maybe a brewpub. The meeting space would be leased out for private functions and used for town/community events.
That building, which was suggested by the town staff, has been a “great change in the program,” Belinski said.
Some council members weren’t quite as sure. Councilman William Infante made it clear that he doesn’t believe the town government should be building and operating such a facility due to lack of expertise and because it would potentially be competing with private sector or nonprofit ventures.
“If the public sector is going to finance it with taxpayers’ money, that raises some very thorny issues,” Infante said.
Schendler said the town must examine its ability to buy 1 acre of land, construct a community building and operate it.
“I want to make sure we don’t end up with a financial albatross,” Schendler said.
Once the pro forma for the entire project is completed and debated, the council could move closer to a first-round vote called a sketch plan review.
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