Pan and Fork ownership group asks, where is Basalt’s leadership? |

Pan and Fork ownership group asks, where is Basalt’s leadership?

Basalt town government is launchkng a rewrite of its master plan, a document that provides a blueprint for for the future. Officials say they want the update to be "very visionary.'
Aspen Times file photo


The town of Basalt is embarking on what is intended to be a “very visionary” update to the town master plan.

While master plans usually make regular folks’ eyes glaze over because they are dominated by planner jargon such as urban growth boundaries, carrying capacities and topologies, the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission members want an aspirational plan, board chairman Bill Maron told the Town Council Tuesday night. “It’s not a regulatory document,” he said.

One of the aspirations will be creating more housing and social opportunities for residents between ages 18 and 30 years of age, according to planning commission member Eric Vozick.

“They’re a missing part of our town,” Vozick said.

Young adults are priced out of the housing market, he said, and several speakers noted that a decidedly older crowd dominates Basalt’s bar scene.

When it comes to design, Basalt might look at an unlikely source for inspiration. Acclaimed architect and planning commission member Gino Rossetti said bold moves would be necessary to transform Midland Avenue, Basalt’s main street, into a more inviting route. He noted that Grand Junction made its Main Street narrower and curvy to make it friendlier for pedestrians. Delivery trucks also tend to use alleys or side streets.

“Maybe we could turn our Midland into the Main Street of Grand Junction,” he said.

Rossetti also said it is important for the town to have a vision that can serve as a guide when individual development projects are reviewed.

“If we don’t have the big picture, we’re just going to dink around,” he said.

Planning commission members urged the council to offer their views, but the council was reluctant to speak for fear of steering a process. They want the planning commission to head the effort.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said the planning commission would be better served seeking input from the public rather than the elected officials.

“You need to get some of these answered with a citizen survey,” she said.

The planning commission will prepare a budget with various options for the council to consider at a future meeting.

The Basalt Town Council’s leadership was lambasted Tuesday night by a property owner who claimed the board isn’t doing enough to solve the Pan and Fork stalemate.

Michael McVoy, president of the board of directors of Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., issued a “challenge” to the board to take a more aggressive stance in determining whether the Pan and Fork site should be developed or acquired for addition to an existing park on the banks of the Roaring Fork River.

“I would encourage you, Town Council, to take leadership,” McVoy said. “I’ve often said the one thing this town is lacking is leadership.”

He closed his impassioned comments by saying, “Tell us what you want.”

McVoy’s frustration boiled over after the latest proposal for the Pan and Fork was criticized by all five council members present Tuesday night. Councilmen Auden Schendler and Bill Infante wanted to see more development than proposed by Basalt River Park LLC and uses with greater public benefit.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and council members Gary Tennenbaum and Jennifer Riffle were opposed to residential use of the property.

McVoy said CDC has worked with four developers. The town rejected one over questions about the firm’s fiscal abilities. Two others didn’t submit formal applications because they felt the town would reject the plans, McVoy said.

Basalt River Park LLC, headed by local businessman Tim Belinski, submitted a plan earlier this year after putting an option on the land. Belinski’s plan includes 22 free-market residences, six affordable-housing units, and 7,000 square feet for the Art Base, 1,300 square feet for the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, 1,000 square feet for a coffee shop and an offer to sell 1 acre of land to the town for expansion of the park.

The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the project earlier this year.

CDC acquired a portion of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park in 2011. The town acquired the balance of the property by the river. McVoy said CDC’s intent was to help relocate residents of the mobile home park, which faced consistent flood risk and substandard infrastructure. Its investors, who include philanthropist George Stranahan, felt they also could help usher in desirable development for the town, but finding the right mix of development and park has proved elusive.

“What I’ve heard over the last eight years is constant rehash and division,” McVoy said.

He was particularly angered Tuesday night at the council meeting when it was suggested that outside urban planners should be harnessed to help determine in a community forum what should be built on the site. McVoy said there has been enough study and debate of the property, including an extensive community planning process called Our Town. It’s time for a decision, he said.

“While I understand there may be huge conflicts, I’d challenge you — the council, the staff, the town — to take everything you’ve heard over the last eight years (and decide). Don’t keep trying to bring in new ideas,” McVoy said. “What has happened in the process is that everybody in town has concluded they have a right to design our property.”

Schendler was the first board member to defend the council’s actions.

“This isn’t a particularly divided council,” Schendler said, noting there is a lot of cooperation and “overlap” of ideas among board members. “A lot of the dysfunction is process.”

Under standard land-use review procedure, the developer uses the town master plan and land-use code to prepare an application. It gets reviewed by the planning commission, then advances to the council. Schendler said he understands the frustration because the council usually provides some “vague” comments, then the developer must “guess” again on how to rework its plan.

“At this rate, I think you’re right, we’ll never get through this,” Schendler said.

He wants the town to revolutionize its process by sitting down with the developer and hashing out a plan that is acceptable.

Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle defended the town’s approach to the Pan and Fork site. She said the town undertook the extensive Our Town process to give direction. A developer just needs to propose a plan that matches that direction and the zoning.

Basalt River Park is seeking a zoning change to allow the 22 residences.

The discussion was left largely unresolved. Council members urged Belinski and his team to continue working with town staff.

Belinski said Wednesday he couldn’t comment yet on the direction of Basalt River Park LLC in the wake of the meeting.