Pan and Fork renovation: ‘It’s a big day for Basalt’
August 15, 2011
BASALT – The Basalt town government on Friday took a big step toward achieving a major goal of removing a trailer park from the Roaring Fork River, restoring the floodplain to a natural condition and finding replacement housing for the residents.
The town and the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. (RFCDC) teamed to buy the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park for $3.25 million. RFCDC bought the entire 5.3 acres. The town then used $1.2 million in open space funds to acquire 2.9 acres from the nonprofit organization.
“It’s a big day for Basalt,” Town Manager Bill Kane said Friday.
The mobile home park is in the heart of Basalt, although it’s not officially in the town limits: It’s in Pitkin and Eagle counties. The park is between Two Rivers Road and the river, bounded by the Midland Avenue bridge and the Taqueria el Nopal restaurant.
The town will convert its portion of the property into a riverside park. RFCDC will eventually redevelop its 2.4 acres as a nonprofit campus and a mixture of residential and commercial development.
While the purchase was a milestone, the next step is daunting: RFCDC and the town are obligated to offer alternative affordable housing to the families and individuals who live in the 38 trailers on the property. There are an estimated 75 residents of the park. The town has a housing ordinance that bans landowners from buying affordable housing and redeveloping the property without replacing that housing.
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“We look at it as an opportunity,” said Michael McVoy, RFCDC president. Part of the appeal of the deal for the nonprofit was to help keep the park residents, many of whom are Latino, in the community. RFCDC is negotiating with two landowners in the Basalt area for land to provide replacement housing.
One or both sites might be in use, depending on negotiations, McVoy said. The replacement housing could be trailers, modular homes, apartments or a combination. He declined to identify the potential sites for the new housing because talks are ongoing.
Town and RFCDC officials said they won’t give the trailer park residents housing; they will be offered rental or purchase opportunities.
McVoy said at least a portion of the replacement housing will be developed entirely with private funding. If public funds are used, the legal status of the residents might be an issue. “We want to relocate the residents and it’s not up to us to look at that question,” McVoy said.
Relocation is a priority for the town because numerous studies have identified a portion of the mobile home park as being at risk from a major flood. Mayor Leroy Duroux said at least 12 homes are in the flood way, an area at the highest risk of flooding. Anyone who thinks the focus of the project is to make the town prettier isn’t aware of the issues, he said.
Kane said the Pan and Fork residents have known for a decade that the town’s goal was to move the housing. Many of them want the issue resolved by finding permanent housing.
“The uncertainty has probably been the biggest challenge,” Kane said.
RFCDC will submit a land-use application to the town before the end of this year. As a nonprofit, its proposal will receive an expedited, one-step review. If all goes as planned, RFCDC would like to have residents moved to alternative housing by late spring 2013, McVoy said.
Most of the trailers cannot be moved because of their age and condition. Possibly two trailers and one modular residence can be moved to another location. Duroux said the Pan and Fork was established in the late 1950s or early 1960s. It was there when he moved to Basalt in 1963. Contrary to popular belief, it was not established for workers on the Fryingpan-Arkansas water diversion system, he said.
RFCDC bought the park from RNR Ltd., whose principal is Basalt resident Renee Ritchie.
McVoy said RFCDC will explore developing roughly 100,000 square feet of residential, commercial and nonprofit space at the property. Colorado Mountain College has signed a nonbinding statement expressing interest in the site. The property also presents an opportunity for commercial development that can give Basalt an economic boost, he said.
RFCDC and the town will hold a public meeting Aug. 24 at the Basalt Library to discuss their plan and listen to ideas from anyone interested, McVoy said. Details will be available closer to the meeting date.
At this point, the plan for the property is “pretty much an open door into an empty room,” said George Stranahan, the Woody Creek philanthropist who founded the Manaus Fund, parent to RFCDC. Manaus loaned RFCDC $500,000 to help with the acquisition of the property. The nonprofit raised other funds and borrowed money from Alpine Bank for its $2.05 million commitment. It will rely on private donations, grants and redevelopment funds to pay the loans back.
Stranahan said the mission of the Manaus Fund is to bring entrepreneurial spirit to social justice and nonprofit causes. Government often will not or cannot fund some of the best ideas, he said. “If it’s good stuff, it should be funded,” Stranahan said.