Charlie Cole: Guest opinion |

Charlie Cole: Guest opinion

Charlie Cole
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

Some exciting and significant developments are beginning to move forward in Old Town Basalt. Residents need to be aware and consider the consequences.

After years of false starts, the town of Basalt, together with the Manaus Foundation and its operating arm, The Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. (CDC), has acquired the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park. The CDC will retain the land on Two Rivers Road for its development. The town will acquire the land along the river for open space and parks.

Basalt is fortunate to be partnering with Manaus and CDC. George Stranahan, founder and principal supporter of Manaus, has been for years a visionary whose ideas, projects and philanthropy have made our valley a better place. The CDC staff, board and consultants are well-respected and have all contributed their time and expertise in many ways as well.

CDC, much to its credit, is soliciting citizen input for some direction on their project. In the three meetings I have attended I am seeing a trend that I fear, if allowed to come to fruition, will bring unintended and less than satisfactory results for our town.

CDC has one project under its belt, the Third Street Center in Carbondale. It is a well-done conversion of an elementary school into a facility that houses nonprofit groups, their offices, meeting rooms and the like. In that regard, a nonprofit development flavor appears to be the direction CDC is headed in for the Pan and Fork. This has troubling aspects.

The nonprofit center concept is a good one, and it would serve Basalt well; however, mixing nonprofit with retail and tourist business doesn’t serve any of these uses well. Current discussion is to mix retail, hotel, nonprofit and housing on a limited site that, in my view, cannot support each activity adequately, let alone optimally.

Nonprofits operating at the corner of Midland Avenue and Two Rivers Road, the retail core of “old downtown,” are misplaced. Citizens agree the riverfront portion of the area should be a gathering place for people to have fun. That actuality would naturally spill over and energize the businesses in the developed portion. It is a place we are wise to make lively and attractive for visitors to enjoy and to purchase goods and services. Any dilution of that kind of environment, I believe, will prove counterproductive.

A boutique hotel has been suggested – a good idea! It brings tourists and can be an exciting gathering place itself.

Consolidation of Colorado Mountain College midvalley classrooms, auditorium and administrative offices – not a good idea! While students do not spend like tourists and resident shoppers, they do bring cars to town. The combined parking requirements for hotel guests, residents, shop and restaurant patrons and employees and CMC students (think evening adult education classes) has the potential at times to spill over to Midland and Two Rivers Road, much to the dislike of businesses already there.

Manaus and CDC together were clearly the critical force for acquiring the Pan and Fork – a huge success. But providing space for nonprofits, because that’s what they do, doesn’t follow in that location.

There is a place for a nonprofit “campus” (a word CDC often uses) close to the Pan and Fork, with easy access, both auto and pedestrian, room for adequate parking and future expansion, in what could be made a cultural environment. CDC knows of this place; so does town government.

Manaus Foundation has an opportunity to raise its sights, and the bar, to leave a legacy for which it can be truly proud, something of far greater usefulness and efficiency. The hybrid development that appears to be taking shape for the Pan and Fork, currently, denies full potential to the limited commercial space remaining on Midland and asks nonprofits to limit their needs and vision for future expansion with this development “shoehorn.”

We have historical precedent in Basalt for reversing direction on significant development needs. Several years ago Basalt’s library board was looking for a site to build a new, expanded library. After considering a series of RFPs without success, the board found a site in El Jebel it felt was workable and asked voters to pass a tax referendum to construct a new building.

A small group of citizens, unalterably opposed to the selected site and its location, successfully defeated the referendum. Less than a year later the library board secured the current site and now we enjoy a worthy facility in the proper location.

Another project was not reconsidered – too bad. Several years ago the River Walk project was constructed on the east end of Midland Avenue. A small group of citizens, during the review process, urged the developer to consider reducing its size and constructing the two buildings facing each other with a wide, pedestrian-friendly square separating them. That would have created synergy between the buildings for the businesses to draw on, open up Midland to the Frying Pan and create space for pedestrian activity – sidewalk vendors, water features, seasonal celebrations and entertainment, and, of course, access to the river through descending elevations.

As it turned out, no “thinking out of the box” came from the developer, nor did the town require it; so, instead of a vital exclamation point of business and pedestrian activity, we have the standard configuration – buildings facing the street with a paved parking lot in back along the Fryingpan. The east end of Midland Avenue fades off into retail oblivion.

We have to do better at the other end of Midland.

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