Guest column: Closing in on the future of the Pan & Fork parcel
As the election nears, Basalt residents are discussing the future of the riverfront parcel that was the longtime home to the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park.
Many would like it to be a mix of park and community-oriented development with limited or no housing on the site. Others would like to see a smaller park with commercial development, including a condominium hotel where owners could rent out their units, similar to The Gant in Aspen. It is clearly one of the big issues in the election.
As two of the people who provided financial support for the purchase of the Pan and Fork, we thought it would be helpful to review how this whole business started in the first place.
In 2011, after a successful development effort with Carbondale’s Third Street Center, the Manaus Fund was invited to help Basalt find a solution for the Pan and Fork. Occupied by a largely immigrant community, the trailer park was in the floodplain and deemed to be in harm’s way. Manaus provided seed money to the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. to purchase the property in collaboration with the town of Basalt. Our primary goal was to relocate the residents in a fair and just manner.
While we realize the name “Roaring Fork Community Development Corp.” screams private developer, and at times it has been incorrectly labeled as the developer, it is a nonprofit property owner that derives its name from IRS regulations. Hundreds of nonprofits around the country include “Community Development Corp.” in their names and work on urban renewal and other critical civic projects.
In addition to funding from Manaus, the Community Development Corp. borrowed money from Alpine Bank and other commercial lenders for the purchase. At closing, the town paid it $1.2 million for the 3 acres along the river, which will remain public open space. The Community Development Corp. retained the 2.3 acres along Two Rivers Road and assumed $2.05 million in debt from the purchase. All the trailers remained on site, and Community Development Corp.’s debt payments were to be paid with rent until resident relocation and property-development plans were approved.
Both the town and the Community Development Corp. envisioned the 2.3 acres now in question would be sold to a developer like Lowe Enterprises after securing development approval. The money would allow the Community Development Corp. to pay off the loans from the original purchase.
In 2013, the town began relocating residents and removing trailers without a development plan in place and used publicly financed bonds to pay for riverbank improvements that ultimately allowed the Rocky Mountain Institute building to proceed. However, the accelerated relocation of residents eliminated the Community Development Corp.’s trailer rental payments, and its loans were called.
The Community Development Corp. and Manaus refinanced the debt with help from philanthropic lenders, and retained the open parcel we all now see, a wonderful property that has inspired the many visions.
Over five years, the Community Development Corp. has cooperated with proposals meant to help Basalt realize its vision for the property. Yet neither the Basalt community campus plan, including a Hyatt Hotel and a nonprofit center as proposed by Richard Meyers, nor the current Lowe condominium-hotel proposal has gained support from the Town Council or the community.
A recent citizens initiative, signed by more than 400 registered Basalt voters, proposed that the town buy the land and dedicate 1.3 acres for an urban-style park along Two Rivers Road and allowed up to half an acre of either commercial or civic-oriented development. The Community Development Corp. supported this idea because it allows the community to control the destiny of the land, and, like the other proposals, it reimbursed to the Community Development Corp. the costs and loans associated with the parcel.
Manaus and the Community Development Corp. have been patient landowners, simply wanting to get back the money they have invested. In five years that amount has grown to nearly $3 million, including accumulated interest, legal expenses, land-use costs associated with the two major development proposals, water tap fees and other administrative costs.
We believe the best deal for Basalt’s residents is for the town to buy this prime parcel and decide through a community process how much to keep as park and how much to sell to a developer. The community will recoup some of the costs this way, generate vitality and create a fantastic park. (That said, we will accept any deal that repays our investment and costs.)
If you think about it, $3 million is a steal. This is 2.3 acres of prime, riverfront property just 15 minutes from Aspen. If Basalt can find the right mix of park and development, it will pay dividends for generations to come.
George Stranahan is the founder of the Manaus Fund, and Rob Pew is the current president. They both live in the Roaring Fork Valley.
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