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Riverwalk developer unsure of next step

The owner of the Riverwalk property in downtown Basalt said she will strongly consider building what’s already approved for the land rather than prolonging talks with the Town Council.

Developer Frieda Wallison said she will decide by Oct. 10 what direction to go with a project that has turned into a labor of love.

Wallison wants to build nearly 75,000 square feet of commercial and residential property in five buildings on the last large undeveloped parcel on Basalt’s Midland Avenue. Her property is on the east end of the town’s main street, across from St. Vincent Catholic Church.

The Town Council made it clear on Sept. 19 that the project won’t be approved as Wallison envisioned. The majority of the council members said they would approve the project only with cuts of between 10 and 30 percent of the density.

“I’m really weighing whether it makes any sense to go forward,” Wallison said. “What I’m trying to figure out is if I can get to a 10-percent reduction at this point.”

She claimed she didn’t have a lot of padding built into the project, so she doubts whether it can remain economically viable with a reduction of 10 percent.

“I’m just really discouraged at this point,” said Wallison, whose development application has been under review for 16 months.

While Wallison might be down, she’s not out. When she and her Caddis Fly Partners LLC purchased the Riverwalk property in March 1999, it came with a prior development approval from the town. She can build 43,463 square feet of offices, retail shops, restaurants and residences by doing nothing more than applying for a building permit.

However, Wallison has never been a fan of that approval because, she said, it is essentially “two office buildings surrounding a parking lot.”

She had a grander idea – including stuffing most of the parking underground rather than on the banks of the Fryingpan River. Wallison said she doubted for some time whether she would ever really be willing to build the approved development – complete with her signature on it. Now she knows she could.

“At some point the notion of recouping your investment becomes important,” she chuckled.

For that reason, she’s also doubtful that a recent overture by some residents of Basalt to buy the land and preserve it as open space is a realistic option.

A public purchase would likely require bonding that would need the backing of a property tax increase. A question couldn’t make it to the ballot until 2001 at the earliest – and the outcome is unsure.

“We can’t really stand around for an appreciable time before we build something,” said Wallison.

As the review process dragged out and Wallison became increasingly discouraged this summer, she was approached by real estate agents who wanted to know if her property was available. She’s rebuffed their inquiries.

“We didn’t buy this land to flip it,” she said.

The Town Council is scheduled to consider approvals for Riverwalk on Oct. 10 – but approvals at 10 percent less than she’s seeking. Wallison said she might tell the board in advance to skip the effort if she decides to build what’s already approved.


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