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Trust and trailer parks in Basalt

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen CO, Colorado

BASALT When Basalt voters go to the polls April 1 to decide if the Basalt town government should purchase the Pan & Fork Mobile Home Park for $5 million, the issue may well boil down to trust.Critics of the proposal including half of the six candidates for Basalt Town Council contend the town government hasnt released enough details about what it will do if it acquires the park.The Town Council is essentially saying trust us to work out many of the details. The government moved fast on owner Renee Ritchies offer to sell the trailer park and scrambled to craft a concept. More detailed plans will be developed if voters approve the purchase.Basalt resident Randy Colman is among the critics of the proposal. The town is seeking voter approval without thorough scrutiny of the issue, he said.Its not just a trust us, its a steamroller kind of thing, said Colman. He wants the town to slow the process, postpone the election until November and use the extra time to educate voters on its plans.Former Basalt councilwoman Anne Freedman is a member of Citizens for the Entrance to Basalt, which supports the ballot question. She feels the town government has supplied a great deal of information, particularly since it doesnt want to spend funds on details plans until it knows if voters support the purchase of the park.I think theyve said as much as they can say, Freedman said. Theres as much of a plan in place as government can have.The town government cannot spend public funds on the campaign for the ballot measure. The bond company the town is working with, Stifel Nicolaus & Co., is bankrolling production of direct mail pieces that have been sent to voters.Goal: Relocate residentsThe town council is asking voters for approval to issue $5 million in bonds for the purchase of the trailer park. The towns goal is to relocate the residents of the 37 trailers into replacement housing.The project would remove residents from potential danger and loss of property from a major flood. The Pan & Fork is located along the banks of the Roaring Fork River, in the heart of Basalt. Once the trailer park was closed, it would allow the town and private sector to undertake other steps to ease flood concerns. For example, the town wants to remove the decommissioned bridge near 7-Eleven, but it cannot take steps that could affect downstream flooding.A significant part of the Pan & Fork is outside the flood plain and could be redeveloped, according to reports by a town consultant. The town would work with the private sector to redevelop about 1.8 acres of land along Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue.The low-lying part of the property, along the banks of the Roaring Fork River, would be preserved as a park that connects to the existing Old Pond Park.The town government said it will take perhaps as many as 10 years to relocate the residents. They will receive priority status to move into affordable housing that gets developed by the private sector in Basalt. Numerous projects with affordable housing components are in the towns review process.Financial albatross?Colman is concerned that the opportunities for replacement housing will fall through due to a poor economy or a multitude of other factors.What is the long-term financial burden to the taxpayer? he asked.Colman said he also is concerned about the town taking on the responsibility for the residents as their landlord if relocation falls through.Proponents of the plan and town officials acknowledged that all answers arent available at this time. We still have a lot of work to do, said Town Manager Bill Efting. But he stressed that the town also performed a bunch of homework on the deal.The actual purchase price for the park is $4.5 million, which town officials note is $1.5 million below the appraised value. Additional funds will be needed for minor improvements to the trailer parks road and sewer systems, and the bond company must be paid, Efting said. Those additional costs will be covered by the $5 million bond issuance.If approved, the bonds will be repaid by a property tax increase. The bonds would be repaid in 20 years, then the tax would expire. However, it could be repaid sooner. The town intends to work with the private sector to redevelop the land fronting Two Rivers Road. Proceeds from the development would be used to repay the debt obligation sooner, Efting said.Colman wanted more information on that development partnership. Town officials said that isnt possible. They wont a relationship with a developer unless the land is in their hands. Its the classic chicken-and-egg scenario.Land always a good investmentCouncilman Glenn Rappaport, who is leaving the council next month, said he knows unease surrounds the proposal. He reassures people that acquisition of land is a smart move. Every parcel the town has acquired in recent years has soared in value, he said.Dividing the property along Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue into small lots, zoning them according to the master plan and selling them would produce a windfall for the town, Rappaport said.The biggest advantage of the deal is putting the town in the drivers seat to solve one of its biggest issues, Rappaport said. Relocating the trailer park residents has been one of the biggest goals of the town government this decade. It is easiest to achieve that goal if the town owns the property, he said.Realistically, Rappaport said, some residents of the mobile home park wont qualify for relocation because they are in the country illegally. The majority of the residents at Pan & Fork are Latino. In addition, some residents who are comfortable in a trailer park wont opt for living in an apartment or condominium, Rappaport said.Nevertheless, he believes the deal is worthwhile. The town will not only remove residents from a potential dangerous site, it will be obligated to replace all 37 trailers with affordable units elsewhere in town. That helps keep the diversity of housing that Basalt is in danger of losing, Rappaport said.In the meantime, the town would own a trailer park that has positive cash flow. Efting said no on-going public expenditures would be needed if the town owns the park.scondon@aspentimes.com