Latest Pan and Fork plan falls flat with Basalt Town Council

A citizens' group is lobbying a developer to alter its plan for the former Pan and Fork property within the black fence. The group contends its proposal brings more life to the area while preserving about half the ground for park.
Aspen Times file photo

The latest development proposal for the Pan and Fork property fell flat with the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night.

The five council members present at the meeting urged Basalt River Park LLC, a company headed by Tim Belinski, to go back to the drawing board. It was the first time the council was able to provide feedback in the land use review process.

The reasons for opposition were all over the board.

“The bottom line is this isn’t a creative development. Let’s work together,” said Councilman Auden Schendler.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum expressed a similar sentiment, though for difference reasons.

“If you want to work with us, I would want to see significant changes,” he said.

Basalt River Park LLC submitted a proposal earlier this year for 22 free-market housing units of 2,100 square feet each and six affordable housing units. In addition, 7,000 square feet of land would be provided to the Art Base for a community arts center, 1,300 square feet would be provided to Basalt Chamber of Commerce for a visitors’ center and 1,000 square feet would be designated for commercial space, preferably for a coffee shop. About 1 acre would be sold to the town for expansion of the town’s existing, adjacent park on the Roaring Fork River.

Belinski defended each component of the plan during a brief presentation to the council. The additional space for the park will be a “change agent” for downtown Basalt, he said.

The Art Base “should be the thing we rally around and support,” he added.

The decision not to mix in traditional commercial space is based on market conditions, according to Belinski. It’s tough to run a restaurant in downtown Basalt because of the competition and lengthy offseasons, he indicated.

“There’s really not room for a restaurant of significant size without bumping another,” Belinski said.

He acknowledged that development of the Pan and Fork site is a “political hot potato” because the town is about evenly split on wanting to see extensive development and limited development.

“Our application is a meet-in-the-middle solution,” he said.

But it earned little support from the council. Schendler and Councilman Bill Infante said they want more development on the site than proposed.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Council members Gary Tennenbaum and Jennifer Riffle were against the proposed housing or eating into the 1 acre that would be added to the park.

Council members Katie Schwoerer and Ryan Slack were unable to attend the meeting.

Schendler started the council debate by noting to members of the audience that he is opposed to dedicating the entire property as a park.

“I’m not that guy,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense form a planning perspective.”

The acre proposed for expansion of the park is at the corner of Midland Avenue and Two Rivers Road — closest to downtown Basalt. Schendler and Infante said that’s where development should do.

Schendler said the site is a perfect place to replace affordable housing that was lost when the 38 units of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park were removed because of flood risk.

“What happened to the concept of replacement housing?” Schendler asked.

He said he would be willing to increase density and allow greater heights of buildings to get affordable housing.

Belinski’s group is seeking rezoning because current regulations require that no more than 25 percent of the development can be residential. Infante said the solution might be expanding the footprint rather than rezoning.

Infante also said the developer could “question the assumption” that the eastern end of the property must be preserved as open space.

“As Auden has suggested, we are big fans of density,” Infante said.

In addition to housing, he said the site is appropriate for a boutique hotel.

He was also more supportive than Schendler on the idea that the Art Base could be an effective anchor for the property.

While Schendler and Infante were fans of density, the other three council members were not. Tennenbaum said he supported the town’s purchase of the entire property for park and limited development. The proposed purchased failed by a narrow margin in a town election.

“We’re trying to work on what’s the best compromise on the property,” he said.

However, the amount of free market proposed by Belinski is a “non-starter,” according to Tennenbaum.

“To me, the amount of residential is just not going to work,” he said. “I do not agree that this property is appropriate for density.”

He suggested that Belinski and the town could work together to see if the Pan and Fork site could be linked to Reno Park (where the recycling center used to be located) and Lions Park (where Town Hall is located). Density might be better on the other parcels, he said.

Riffle supported enlisting an urban design firm to search for creative development. It’s a valuable piece of property that is the core of the town, so development must be planned carefully, she said.

One requirement for Riffle is to keep the developer pushed to the western side of the Pan and Fork site and keeping the eastern half open.

Whitsitt said the Pan and Fork site would either be a “game changer” for Basalt or just more of the same type of development. She said her top concern is coming up with a plan that benefits full-time locals. “That’s who I work for.”

She said she isn’t concerned about second homeowners or tourists. She said she could support some affordable housing but she was skeptical, like Schendler, that the Art Base could be a true anchor.

“I think we’re missing on things we talked about in the beginning — a beer garden or some other use,” Whitsitt said.

She urged Belinski to alter the plan. “I say squeeze this and make it look more like a town,” she said.

It’s possible the demands of the council will be impossible for a for-profit developer to meet, according to Whitsitt, but she doesn’t want to approve something to accommodate the developer.

“I agree with Gary — we have waited this long and we can wait longer,” Whitsitt said.

The council urged Belinski and his team to keep working with town staff on refinements.

However, Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. board president Michael McVoy made it clear the investors in the nonprofit organization are getting “burned out” on a process that’s dragged on in excess of six years. CDC has worked with four developers although Belinski is the only one to submit a formal proposal.

“Every time Basalt ends up saying ‘no.’ Sometimes it’s the council, sometimes it’s the (citizens),” McVoy said.

“This process is not working,” he added in a passionate speech. “I would urge you, Town Council, to take leadership.”