Nature center is in, library out on Basalt’s riverfront property | AspenTimes.com

Nature center is in, library out on Basalt’s riverfront property

Basalt civic leaders’ dream of building a nature center and library on riverfront property near downtown is half alive.

Representatives of the nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy said last night they are “moving ahead fast” with plans to buy part of the town-owned Levinson land and build an education-oriented river center there.

The Basalt Regional Library District was also considering the Levinson property as the site for one of two new libraries it wants to build. Library board members balked at paying the land sale price the town was asking, and the two sides couldn’t agree on other conditions of a complicated deal.

Library officials have informed town officials that they no longer plan to seek voter approval this November for funding for new libraries. The library issue will be postponed until at least the November 2003 ballot.

In contrast, leaders of the Conservancy plan to mount a fund-raising effort as soon as possible, according to Bob Jacobson, a member of the organization’s board of directors. The Conservancy hired renowned Aspen architect Harry Teague to design its facility, Jacobson said.

The Conservancy has rough ideas of how much space it needs, but it won’t be able to start negotiations with the town for a land purchase until Teague explores possibilities, said Conservancy executive director Jeanne Beaudry.

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The town purchased the six-acre Levinson property early this year for $2.2 million. The money came from an open space and riverfront park fund that is generated by a town property tax. Voters approved the levy last November. The Levinson property was the first big purchase.

The property is bounded by the Roaring Fork River on the south and Old Highway 82 on the north. The property is home to the popular Taqueria el Nopal restaurant.

Town officials want to preserve the southerly half of the property – closest to the Roaring Fork – as a riverfront park. They are looking at sales and development of the northerly half to generate money to replenish the open space fund.

A citizens’ committee is advising the Town Council to sell some of the property for $40 per square foot, according to Town Manager Tom Baker.

So far, the Conservancy hasn’t balked at paying that price. The Town Council offered to sell the library district 15,000 square feet of land for $20 per square foot and additional square footage at $40 per square foot, Baker said.

The Conservancy’s Jacobson said the organization wants to raise as much money as possible, not only for its own facility but to help the town develop the riverfront park. Conservancy officials led the effort to get the open space tax approved last fall.

“There is money out there to turn it into a nice park without hitting town coffers,” Jacobson said.

Councilwoman Anne Freedman said she thought it was “wonderful” to hear of the Conservancy’s plans, and she urged them to speed forward.

“It is wonderful,” said Jacobson. “We haven’t run into anything negative.”

The Town Council didn’t discuss whether it will reserve space in case the library wants to take another stab at securing Levinson land. The board must also act at some point on the citizen committee’s recommendation to sell some of the site to a developer.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.]

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