Development group sets sights on Basalt’s controversial Pan and Fork land
A new development firm has placed the controversial Pan and Fork property in Basalt under contract and intends to seek approval for a “park-centered, mixed-use development.”
Basalt River Park LLC has a contract to buy 2 acres from Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. for more than $3 million, according to CDC President Michael McVoy. The contract has contingencies that must be met, such as land-use approvals, McVoy said.
Basalt River Park is headed by Tim Belinski, who has successfully steered projects through the tough land-use review processes in Aspen and Basalt.
He will have his work cut out for him at the Pan and Fork site. The land is located between Midland Avenue and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Innovation Center. It’s been at the center of bickering in Basalt for the past five years over how much of the property should be park and how much should be developed.
“I’m optimistic we can all come together and determine what’s best for the site,” Belinski said. “We’re at a stage where we’re looking at great ideas.”
He said it’s clear that the plan “needs to include a park” on a portion of the property. The town-owned Basalt River Park is adjacent to the site. The town unsuccessfully asked voters to approve debt to buy an acre of the CDC property in November. Some council members have promoted the idea of using existing funds to buy some of the land to enlarge the park.
Belinski’s team also has talked to nonprofit organizations that have expressed an interest in being included in the plan. He said it was premature to name the nonprofits. The Art Base, a community art center, was part of a previous developer’s plan.
The plan must also include free-market development to make it financially viable. Belinski said his team would not pursue development of a hotel, which was the centerpiece of the prior developer’s plan. Instead he will pursue housing.
The Community Development Corp. had a contract to sell the property to Lowe Enterprises, a national development firm with an Aspen office. The contract lapsed in December when Lowe officials became frustrated over stalled negotiations with the town over uses of the site. Lowe never submitted a formal application.
CDC wrote a letter to the town in December threatening a lawsuit over alleged unfair treatment in handling of the property, but McVoy stressed Thursday litigation wouldn’t be pursued. He said he trusts the town government will review any plan expeditiously and fairly.
“We’re confident there’s a deal that can be had,” McVoy said.
CDC received “numerous inquiries” from developers who were interested in the property after Lowe bowed out, McVoy said, but Belinski was selected because of his relationship with the town government. Belinski is currently development manager for Willits Town Center. He has negotiated numerous alterations to the approvals for Willits with town officials.
“He seems to have as good of a relationship as any developer who works with the town of Basalt,” McVoy said.
Prior to his role at Willits, Belinski oversaw the development of Obermeyer Place, a mixed-use project that revitalized a portion of Aspen.
Belinski said Mariner Real Estate Management, the company that owns and is developing Willits Town Center, isn’t part of the team pursuing the Pan and Fork site purchase and development. He plans to form an investment group to provide capital for the build out of the property.
Belinski said in a prepared statement he looks forward to “bringing attention to downtown” after more than 10 years of overseeing Willits.
“Willits is in the home stretch,” Belinski said in the statement. “Now it’s time to get downtown Basalt more energized. It’s very exciting because downtown has so much potential and authentic Western charm. Along with the effects of Willits, when City Market relocated to El Jebel, the downtown area lost energy that it hasn’t recaptured.”
Belinski said in an interview Thursday that he hopes to get together with the town planning staff “very soon” to start the process of submitting an application.
Town officials said in a joint statement with Belinski that they look forward to examining plans for the property.
“I think that the council will be receptive to a development proposal that is appropriately scaled for the site,” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said. “I sense there remains broad support in having more park than is currently owned by the town, which would integrate with the development and become a catalyst for activity in the downtown.”
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said in the statement: “I hope we can make headway using the community’s great idea. It would be terrific to create a place everyone will be proud of.”
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The city of Aspen’s office building is exempt from paying encroachment fees, yet private developers have to now pay $9 a square foot, per month, starting in 2020.