Guest Column: Basalt, at a crossroads
Our friends living at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan rivers are facing one of those “What kind of community do we want to be?” moments.
The stakes feel high because they are, and because whatever is decided will go a long way in determining what kind of town Basalt becomes.
At issue is an approximately 5-acre parcel between Two Rivers Road and the banks of the Roaring Fork in the heart of Basalt. Right now, it’s a giant, mud lot with a magnificent view and more potential than any property in valley.
For many decades, the parcel was home to hundreds of residents in the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, a rundown trailer park on the flood plain.
The Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., a nonprofit based in Carbondale, bought it in 2011 in a partnership with the town government, with plans to relocate the residents to safer housing and recoup its investment by selling the developable property closest to the road to either the town or a developer.
In that original partnership, the town of Basalt bought 2.7 acres closest the river, including the river bottom.
After two years of exploring relocation options and conceptual designs, the town hastened the eviction and demolition of the trailer park in order to allow riverbank work necessary to raise out of the floodplain a parcel owned by the Rocky Mountain Institute so it could begin work on a new headquarters building.
The Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., which is funded by people who support schools and Latino outreach and other worthy projects, still has about $2.5 million tied up in the project, and the town government has shown little interest in buying the rest of that property, except for an unreasonably low offer proffered several months ago.
Truly, the town government wants the nonprofit that made it possible to even consider this park to take a loss for their efforts.
So with the town playing hardball, a developer, Aspen-based Jim DeFrancia, has come forward with a proposal to build 40 free market condos (priced at a half-million and up), a yet-to-be-decided number of deed-restricted affordable condos and a vague promise to consider a hotel at some point down the line.
DeFrancia isn’t even guaranteeing a hotel, he’s just saying he might build one, but only if all the stars line up and there is some extra cash falling out of his pocket when everything is sold.
The irony is that if DeFrancia ends up building the Rivervue Hotel, Basalt would have 170 new, reasonably priced hotel rooms (there’s a 110-room chain hotel under construction at Willits). They’re located on the bus line, meaning they are ready to serve the resort in Aspen.
A contingent of Basalt’s old time, development-oriented leaders, some downtown business owners and Rocky Mountain Institute advocates think a boutique hotel next to the river is a great way to support downtown businesses and give clients a place to stay.
It’s probably true that the Rivervue Hotel would bring people to downtown Basalt and help support the businesses there, but probably not as much as expected. Hotels don’t typically bring anyone to town, unless the town is named Las Vegas and there’s a circus atmosphere, a casino and a pool with a slide included.
Hopefully, my friends in Basalt can imagine more for their town’s future than being Aspen’s cheap-lodging alternative, and more for their downtown than 40 high-end condos.
It’s fishing that brings people to Basalt, golf at the Roaring Fork Club, road- and mountain-biking options in 15 different directions, Ruedi Reservoir, great dining and the simple beauty of the place.
With a 4-plus acre park at the heart of its community, Basalt could become the river mecca that it aspires to be. A park that size could host any number of performances, festivals, picnics and play areas, similar to Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs or Sopris Park in Carbondale. It could help make Basalt a destination in its own right.
A large number of residents who are too busy normally for local politics are starting to lobby for this result. But for it to happen, Basaltines need to pony up and pay the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. for the rest of the land.
Then they can let their imaginations run wild and give Basalt a chance to sparkle like the rivers running through it.
Allyn Harvey writes a monthly column in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. He is a Carbondale-based writer, PR consultant and member of the Carbondale Town Board of Trustees.