Basalt’s paralysis over Pan and Fork site means no new amenities for riverfront park
The Basalt River Park is looking like Cinderella before the fairy godmother stepped in and got her prepped for the ball, but in this case it’s uncertain if the fairy godmother will ever intervene.
The Basalt Town Council’s inability over the past seven years to agree with a developer on a suitable project on the adjacent Pan and Fork site has stunted the town’s completion of the park. The council has been unwilling to spend funds on the River Park until it knows what is going to happen with the adjacent 2.3 acres owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp.
The town bought nearly 3 acres of land along the Roaring Fork River for $1.2 million in August 2011. About 1 acre is usable as a park. Seven years after the acquisition, the site contains sod, a gravel walking path, benches, one picnic table, a piece of sculpture and a portable toilet.
The council affirmed its wait-and-see position Tuesday night when it approved contracts for services from a landscaping architecture firm and an engineering firm for future work on the park and Two Rivers Road. However, the work will be placed on hold and no funds spent on services until the picture is more clear on the Pan and Fork site.
“It looks like more council discussion is needed with (the developer) before starting the design process,” the town staff concluded in a memo to the council.
Midvalley businessman Tim Belinski is heading a group that applied to develop 16 free-market residences, six affordable-housing units and space for the ArtBase and Basalt Chamber of Commerce on the former Pan and Fork site. Belinski’s group also proposed selling 1 acre of its holdings to the town for expansion of the river park.
The application went nowhere with the council when board members gave their first feedback Sept. 25. Two board members wanted to see an increased level of development and a change in uses to serve more public need. Three members opposed the inclusion of free-market housing.
Two other development firms considered projects at the site but never formally proposed them after discussions with the town.
Councilman Auden Schendler proposed a path out of the paralysis Tuesday night. He suggested the town ask Belinski’s group to withdraw its application so the council and development firm can discuss a project without the legal constraints of the town’s formal land-use process.
“Right now, I just feel like the process prevents the council from saying what it wants or doesn’t,” Schendler said.
Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the council is currently scheduled to hold a work session with Belinski’s group later this month. That setting may allow the council to give guidance “on how to massage the proposal,” he said.
Schendler said he believes the conversation would be more relaxed if the land-use review wasn’t ongoing. The town is required to follow legal steps when reviewing an application. Councilman Bill Infante and Mayor Jacque Whitsitt also expressed support for engaging the developer in a more informal setting.
Town Attorney Jeff Conklin said he would research the issue, but he felt the best approach might be a withdrawal of the application so the town and developer could enter a roundtable discussion.
Mahoney said that would be entirely up to Belinski and his partners.
“If they don’t want to do that, they have the right to due process,” he said.
Mahoney said Belinski is out of town this week, but that he would inform him of the council’s discussion as soon as possible.
For the foreseeable future, what Basalt residents and visitors see at the river park is what they get.
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Eagle County will go to Stage 2 fire restrictions Friday, joining Pitkin County and other state and federal lands in the area.