A petition for the Pan and Fork river park | AspenTimes.com

A petition for the Pan and Fork river park

Mark Harvey
Guest Commentary

The town of Basalt has been grappling with the Pan and Fork river parcel for five years. So a group of Basalt residents — including three former Town Council members — has created a citizens’ committee that is circulating petitions so the people can vote to preserve most of land for a Pan and Fork river park.

The process began in 2010 when the Manaus Fund and individual philanthropists helped the town purchase the former mobile-home park. The town then facilitated the relocation of more than 40 families, financed raising the parcel above the floodplain and began to grapple with the decision of what to do with the land. There are those who would like to develop upward of 75,000 square feet of the property with high-end residential housing and a hotel, those who would like to leave the whole park completely undeveloped and those who believe a middle path between those two scenarios is best.

In the next couple of weeks, you’ll see two petitions being circulated that will help determine the future of the park. If you’re a Basalt resident, we urge you to sign them both: The two petitions together support that middle path of moderate commercial development (one or more sites with a total footprint of half an acre) along with lots of open space and improvements for the river park.

The petitions do three things: 1) Direct the Town Council to either pass an ordinance or put an ordinance on the spring ballot to purchase the 2.3-acre parcel currently owned by the Community Development Corp. 2) Direct the Town Council to either pass an ordinance or put an ordinance on the spring ballot for the financing of the same parcel through a general obligation bond paid off by a mill levy and not from the town budget. 3) Limit the total commercial development of the parcel to half an acre.

Before you sign the petitions, you’ll want to know why it’s important and how much it would cost the city.

We think the town should purchase the parcel because we believe that the park’s development — whether it’s done well with careful design or done poorly in haste — will shape both the town’s character and its vitality for generations to come. Our hope is that the land is thoughtfully developed into one of Colorado’s best river parks.

The current Town Council process has this gift of significant riverfront open space on a fast track for what I consider to be a development too large and ultimately just another enclave of private residences and hotel rooms for those who can afford it. The number being thrown around — 75,000 square feet — is about 11/2 times the area of a football field or three times the footprint of the new Element Hotel near Whole Foods. That’s big!

Quite a number of residents believe that the parkland should be developed on a more modest scale with amenities that allow for great events, public art, fishing and boating, children’s recreation, perhaps a band shell or theater, a community garden and places for eating and drinking. Such a Pan and Fork river park could be Basalt’s crown jewel. With the Rocky Mountain Institute’s new Innovation Center recently completed adjacent to the same parcel (and the interesting people whom that building will draw), it’s not hard to imagine a campus river park that would really help define Basalt.

Right now there is considerable pressure to fast-track development of the property, and the generous philanthropic donors deserve to be made whole after waiting five years. If the town owned the property, it would control its destiny on its own schedule.

So what does it cost, and how will it be financed? The purchase price of the parcel is $3 million, which according to reputable appraisers is near its market value. The petition allows the town to pay for the parcel through a bond, with no burden on the town’s current operating funds. While there is no guarantee of support, financing from Pitkin and Eagle counties’ open space programs seems likely, and the parcel has lots of the qualities that might be supported by Great Outdoors Colorado.

Once the town does purchase the property, it will recoup much of its original investment either through leasing or selling the portions of the property designated for development.

Your signature on the two petitions is a great way to ensure that the park’s destiny is in the residents’ hands — your hands. It’s a strong signal to the Town Council that Basalt residents want this park done well, done thoughtfully, done once and done right.

Mark Harvey is a midvalley resident and member of a longtime local ranching family.