Guest Column: Don’t let Pan and Fork be the one that gets away | AspenTimes.com

Guest Column: Don’t let Pan and Fork be the one that gets away

RJ Gallagher, Jr.
Guest Column

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh the thinks you can think up if you only try.” — Dr. Seuss.

It has become almost more than one can take as I watch the reality series that the Pan and Fork has become. What might be good for TV ratings and front-page media coverage is rarely good for those involved.

I will not bore you with my 25 years of experience in resort development and community master planning, but there is hardly a Roaring Fork Valley development project of substance that I have not had the privilege to provide professional services to over the years. Some have become solid models of best-use development and some not as good as they might have been. But as we all know, you learn from every professional and personal experience. I have and I’m old. So that makes me experienced, right?

I am aware that I probably only know half as much as I should know with regards to the all of the details related to this project. But I do know this, you cannot effectively or efficiently master plan any parcel of land by popular vote.

The dynamics of the voting process sway in the favor of the most active and persuasive special interest group or groups. Or another way of putting it; the community becomes manipulated by the rhetoric and messaging of the active parties. I know, I know, we are all too smart for this to happen to us, right? Wrong. It happens in every election process. That is what electioneering and politicking is all about. And believe it or not, it’s already happening now as it relates to the Pan and Fork.

With regards to the effectiveness of elections for the most favored end result, just reach out to Basalt Town Clerk Pam Schilling and ask her what percentage of active registered voters actually casted a vote in the past five Basalt elections.

I did, and the answer is complicated with some moving parts. But in the end it’s quite low, with a dismal average of 25 percent of active and inactive registered voters in the past three April Basalt Municipal elections casting a vote. As to be expected, the November Special Elections is higher, especially if there is a ballot question regarding taxes.

Let’s just say that 50 percent of the registered voters in Basalt cast a vote on the Pan and Fork. It would only take a 51 percent margin of the 50 percent cast to defeat or approve a referendum. That could be as low as 26 percent of eligible Basalt voters. That is a far cry short of an intended community-wide mandate. Also, second homeowners in Basalt would not even get a voice. And I for one feel they are critical investors and members of our community.

And then there is the inherent community divisiveness of such passionate election debates, which already has started in earnest in Basalt. Consider us all forewarned.

I am not surprised in any way that the Basalt community has found itself in this conundrum. I could have told you, from experience, when the initial outreach program was implemented by the town of Basalt, that the result would be an oncoming light at the end of the tunnel. Can you hear that whistle a blowin’?

But back to development master planning. It takes vision, attention to detail, an understanding of the finer points of real estate and community development, established timelines, calculated inventory phasing, the proper management of engaged citizen involvement and, of course, the Black Swan Plan B when the world changes and Plan A becomes irrelevant.

Then it’s just all about those pesky numbers. Because in the end, the numbers are the basis on how every crucial business decision needs to be made. And make no bones about it. This is nothing but a business decision between several at-risk partners. Which is another situation that needs to be addressed.

As an outsider looking in at this point, I would charge that Basalt is flailing at most of these critical disciplines as it relates to the Pan and Fork. The community has become very engaged and many a mantra is that there have been dozens of meetings and hundreds of hours dedicated to helping create the future Pan and Fork. That’s absolutely great, but now our elected officials, town staff and the appropriate third parties need to do what they were elected and/or paid to do. And that is to craft the best-use master plan for this parcel based on the hard reality of the numbers.

There always will be the need for concessions and everyone needs to understand that. This has now become a call to action for our community leaders. They must step up to the forefront, tackle the tough decisions and help guide us to the “wow” conclusions. This is serious stuff, with real-world consequences. It’s time to saddle up and ride leadership.

Just for fun, here are a few thoughts for all to consider by using some third-party quotes to help us possibly look at some of the challenges of this process from a different perspective.

“I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Wimpy, an old school animated character made this famous. By the way, Wimpy did not say this on a Tuesday. Do not allow for the free market sales of real estate inventory be developed and sold prior to the eventual developer agreeing to build “the” hotel or other community amenities. We’re smarter than this, right?

“Like the fox guarding the hen house.” This is a familiar American idiom that is used to point out to somebody that his or her action can invite disaster. It is not good for a community development program to engage potential developers, architects and the like, to the decision-making side of the table for a community project.

All input and interaction can be invited. In fact, the more the merrier, but from multiple development and planning professionals, not just the chosen ones at this juncture. Establishing the appropriate policy for this process is critical, if not just for the optics of said process in the eyes of the community. One might even consider a Request for Proposal at some point in the process.

This amazing parcel of paradise represents a beyond opportunity for Basalt. You might even say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing as it truly is a gift to the community. There does exist a wonderful master plan to make it sing and the right development team to make the vision a reality. The right process, along with effective leadership will help all involved row in the same direction and go with the flow. There is work to be done here with regards to process. Once that is addressed, appropriate applications and solutions always follow.

Keep the faith, friends and neighbors of river city, and don’t let this be the one that gets away.

R.J. Gallagher Jr. is a three-decade resident of the Roaring Fork Valley community.


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