Guest column: Make your voice heard in Basalt
If one were to rely solely on what they read in The Aspen Times, he or she may be left with the impression that there is a huge group of people dedicated to “preserving” the Pan and Fork property for use as a park and protecting this “legacy” piece of land from the greedy hands of developers. And if one had failed to follow the Our Town planning process, part of which began with the efforts of “the Friends of the Fork,” they may be misguided to believe that the options that were selected were contrived by greedy architects, real estate developers and others with their respective hands in the cookie jar. We had an expensive, intensive public process that chose an alternative very similar to what the developer proposed. The people, in fact, voted on the preferred alternative, but the mayor didn’t like it, so she delayed with more processes and enlisted foot soldiers to beat her drum. Is this Aspen politics coming to Basalt? The vote outcome didn’t jibe with government’s view, so hey, let’s see if we can get another vote.
As most of us know who spent hundreds of hours in chat sessions, kickoff meetings and drawing visions and ideas on blank canvas as far back as April 2014, hundreds of people from all walks of life in our community participated in that exercise. Perhaps that’s why we were dumbfounded several months ago when strangers to the process, or people who had not been identified in any of the previous year’s dialogue (except for a few), began to show up at council meetings and spoke out against all that had been accomplished over the preceding year(s). The Times liked to characterize the participants of the process as a variety of affluent professionals with an eye toward personal gain, while the opponents were a group of unbiased environmentalists out to slay the dragon. In doing so, the Times unwittingly attempted to marginalize the remarks and opinions of anyone on the support side. This artificial influence, so developed, and with the “extracurricular persuasion” by our mayor, has left us with a potential project that is, for now, far less than what we hoped for and deserve with artificial boundary lines drawn by the least capable among us, all in an effort to appease the squeaky wheel rather than complement good design. I’d like to believe that our councilmen are as disturbed as we have been given that they were invested both emotionally and financially in the public process, but they have failed as a group to rein in the mayor, who finds every possible way to stall the project, even with a 5-0 vote in favor of Resolution 34, where she allowed herself to be counted positively but did not actually, physically vote.
We are now faced with yet another two-month hiatus, when the council has asked for professional advice to determine what the value of concessions might be if asked by the developer — even before we have determined how much of the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. property we will allow it to develop and how much the town will have to come up with to expand the park’s entrance. The small chunk of land to the west of the view plane and to the east of the artificial line drawn from the proposed development barrier known as the “polygon” remains in question. At least hundreds of thousands of dollars or concessions are on the table if the town determines that it would want to control the development (or not) of that parcel. It has been suggested that the commercial development and management of the parcel would be best handled by the hotel and become an amenity to be used by the public as well as the guests — a restaurant, brewpub, sporting-goods shop — and the cost would become the burden of the developer rather than the town. Given the dysfunction of the town, do we really want it to develop this piece of property and have to pay for it, as well? Wouldn’t someone with a financial stake in its success (and a lengthy track record of successes) be more apt to develop a successful project? “A park without sufficient commercial and residential components is just land,” according to Basalt resident Tim McMahon. Widely if not universally regarded as assets to park, civic and economic vitality, appropriate mixes of commercial, retail, housing and public accommodations become, along with park amenities, the “glue that connects people to place and to each other,” according to Basalt resident Larry Yaw (e.g., Salida, Golden, Buena Vista, Steamboat Springs and Telluride, to name a few). Isn’t that the meat of our vision?
Have you asked yourself, “What happened to all the work we did together over the last year?” Are you frustrated and disappointed by the mixed messages and outright deception of our mayor? Are you still excited by the possibility that some commercial development can and will complement our waterfront park and revitalize our faltering downtown? Make yourself heard through direct emails to our council members and to the town manager and through letters to the editor.