Pitkin County open space actions raise some eyebrows
Decisions by the Pitkin County commissioners to spend nearly $3 million on open space located in Eagle County but to decline a request to contribute to an affordable-housing project in Eagle County has rankled some Basalt officials.
Pitkin County voted last month to contribute $2.98 million to the purchase of the Glassier property on Hooks Spur Road near Emma. The deal is contingent on the Eagle County commissioners approving an additional $2.98 million expenditure. There is an agreement to buy the 137-acre property for $5.9 million.
While the commissioners were willing to go beyond Pitkin County’s boundaries to buy open space, they recently told Denver Archdiocesan Housing they wouldn’t contribute to a $20 million project.
“I think it’s hypocritical,” Basalt Councilman Rick Stevens said of Pitkin County’s stances.
Stevens said he doesn’t mind that Pitkin County extended beyond its boundaries to buy open space. Acquiring the Glassier property will benefit all residents of the Roaring Fork Valley. He believes that they also should contribute to the housing project because a large share of the residents will be working in Pitkin County.
“It’s got to be across the board,” he said of Pitkin County’s involvement in midvalley issues. “You can’t pick and choose.”
Pitkin County’s decision not to contribute to the housing project also was discussed briefly at a recent Basalt Town Council meeting.
Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman said the county commissioners arrived at their decisions after evaluating the midvalley projects independently and on their own merits. The open space purchase will benefit residents throughout the valley by providing access to the Roaring Fork River and preserving agricultural lands, he said. While the Glassier property is in Eagle County, it is contiguous to Pitkin County. The county commissioners earlier this summer contributed to the purchase of the Saltonstall property, which is also in Eagle County. That property will provide access to the public lands of the Crown.
Newman said Pitkin County’s involvement was essential to the acquisition of Saltonstall and possible acquisition of Glassier. Pitkin County officials alerted Eagle County officials to the opportunities.
“I don’t think Eagle County would pursue it, frankly,” Newman said.
In addition, Pitkin County has shown willingness to cross jurisdictional lines when an open space purchase made sense in surrounding areas. It contributed to the purchase of a conservation easement in Jerome Park, which is partially in Garfield County, and the Darien Ranch on the Gunnison County road to Marble.
“There are a lot of examples where our program has crossed boundaries with partners,” Newman said.
He said the county commissioners wanted to pursue alternatives to the Archdiocesan Housing project. There is no philosophical problem with pursuing an affordable-housing project with partners in Eagle County, he said.
The nonprofit Archdiocesan Housing, a branch of Catholic Charities, is building a 66-unit apartment complex with one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Low-income families will be targeted. The apartments are proposed at Willits Town Center.
The commissioners preferred to wait and see if an alternative idea, in the Southside neighborhood of Basalt, comes to fruition, Newman said. The other possible project is in Pitkin County.
“It’s not like we’re unwilling to work with them on housing,” he said of downvalley partners.
Stevens said Basalt has tried unsuccessfully for three or four years to tap a multimillion-dollar fund Pitkin County has established for affordable housing.
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The property tax overcharge refunds are in the hands of Basalt residents. A new civic organization is cranking up its campaign to have recipients contribute some or all of their refunds to the Basalt Gives effort to benefit midvalley-serving nonprofits.