Mixed reaction in Basalt to Pan and Fork petition
December 24, 2015
Two members of the Basalt Town Council said Tuesday they support a citizens' initiative to settle the fate of the Pan and Fork site at an election while two other members said the council should make the tough decisions.
A group called the Pan and Fork River Park Committee produced a new wrinkle in the controversial Pan and Fork debate on Monday. The group started collecting signatures on a petition that asks the council to pass a proposed ordinance that would set in motion the purchase of 2.3 acres of vacant land owned by Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. for as much as $3 million. The petition calls on the town to leave 1.8 acres open as a park. The remaining half-acre would be available for development.
The petition aims to place a question on the ballot that would allow the town to issue as much as $3 million in bonds and raise property taxes for repayment.
"Petition drive aims to force action by a divided Town Council," says a statement issued by the group.
“I am not sure how the ballot question will read, but I think we have to come to a point where it would be better if the citizens make the final decision on how much development we pursue.”Councilman Mark Kittle
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Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said she is "very supportive" of the citizen petition.
"The group seems to have a clear direction, and I believe the citizen majority shares their vision," Whitsitt wrote in a text.
Whitsitt said she believes the committee's position is consistent with the sentiments expressed by Basalt residents in recent and prior community surveys.
"Personally, I think they've hit it right on and am excited to see the outcome," she wrote.
The Aspen Times tried to reach the six Basalt Town Councilmen via email for a reaction to the petition. Councilman Mark Kittle said he is in the camp that favors allowing enough development on the Pan and Fork site so that the town isn't financially strapped. The town has already spent about $900,000 preparing the Community Development Corp. site for development and another $450,00 relocating trailers and residents off of he Community Development Corp.'s property, according to Town Manager Mike Scanlon. The majority of those expenditures would be reimbursable if the site was developed. (The town purchased about 2.9 acres of the Pan and Fork site closest to the Roaring Fork River and is creating a park on that portion.)
Kittle said he wants the town to remain in a financial position so it can address issues such as the pedestrian bypass of Highway 82 at Basalt Avenue, affordable housing and daycare. He believes the town has to allow at least 50,000 square feet of development.
However, the council cannot reach an agreement and the issue has become a stalemate, Kittle said. For that reason, he supports sending the issue to voters.
"I am not sure how the ballot question will read, but I think we have to come to a point where it would be better if the citizens make the final decision on how much development we pursue," Kittle wrote.
Councilman Herschel Ross said he is not in favor of the voters deciding the issue. Rather than focus on square footages and acres that will be developed or preserved, Ross wants the community to decide the uses on the property, then determine how much space is needed to accommodate those uses.
Ross said he has always supported the idea of allowing a small hotel on the site to augment Rocky Mountain Institute functions. The hotel is important to the "vitality, financial recovery and prestige of Basalt," Ross wrote.
He said he believes it is premature for the petition committee to seek split that would make 1.8 acres a park and 0.5 acres available for development. The council is making progress determining how much development is needed at the site, he said.
Councilman Bernie Grauer at one time favored the council hashing out a position on the Pan and Fork, then putting a question on the ballot to see if voters supported it. Tuesday he wrote in an email that he must "reserve judgment until more information becomes available and the council discusses the issues."
Councilman Rick Stevens declined comment on the petition drive.
Councilman Rob Leavitt said that while he agrees with the sentiments of the petition, he is uncertain if putting a question on the ballot is the best way to advance the cause.
"I am generally of the mindset that council was elected to make tough decisions and that we are capable of pursuing an outcome that will please most people, including the petitioners," he wrote.
Councilmen Gary Tennenbaum couldn't be reached for a comment.
If the petition committee collects enough signatures and their effort is ruled valid, the opinions of the council members won't matter. They won't have discretion on whether to put the issues before the voters.
Members of the committee include three former council members — Katie Schwoerer, Jon Fox-Rubin and Pete McBride — as well as Cathy Click, Greg Shugars, Bel Carpenter and Mark Harvey.
Scanlon said he would urge the committee to change the language of the proposed ordinance to give the town more leverage on the purchase price. The $3 million proposed is $900,000 more than Community Development Corp. paid for the property in August 2011. An appraisal paid for by the town showed the value of the property ranged from $1,920,000 to $2,520,000 — assuming the entire 2.3 acres was available for development and it had approvals.
The petition committee plans to submit signatures next month, with the goal of getting a question on the April 5 ballot.