Guest Column: What will Basalt be known for?
In 2010, the Town of Basalt in partnership with Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. and the Manaus fund acquired the Pan and Fork trailer park with the plan to remove trailers from the high hazard zone for the Roaring Fork, create better living circumstance for the residents, cure a long train of environmental abuses and create an economic stimulus for the old town Basalt town core. The financial plan was to have the town purchase the flood plain for a riverfront park and allow the community development corp. to purchase the balance of the developable land for $2 million. The total purchase was $3.2 million.
In 2010, developers willing to risk capital in downtown Basalt were nonexistent. We were essentially rescued by Manaus and George Stranahan, who put more than $2 million of his own money into the transaction with the promise that he would be paid back by allowing development on the remaining private-land portion of the park. George is not a developer. He created the Manaus fund, which is dedicated to the concept of social justice. Regardless of outcome on the pending land-use application, please uphold the integrity of our community and make sure that Manaus is paid back in full. To do anything less would be dishonorable.
Old town Basalt has been hit with the land-use equivalent of a double whammy. First, in 1988, Highway 82 was relocated, and as a result, stranded a series of business enterprises which were highway-oriented and dependent on proximity to a road that conveyed 20,000 cars per day. The Clark’s Market and gas station are vestiges of a bygone era. The downtown will have to be made over to reflect the better opportunity of smaller scale, walkability and historic charm.
Midland and Two Rivers is 100 percent our corner. It is the heart of downtown and one of only a few sites capable of supporting a small hotel and housing, which will be essential to the economic recovery of the town. Imagine Aspen without the Hotel Jerome, and in its place a passive park. Basalt needs a well-done river park to invite the world; it doesn’t need five acres of unprogrammed open space in the urban core. I am afraid that if too big, this space will end up being poorly maintained and we will miss the opportunity to add life and vitality to the core, say nothing of taxing ourselves to keep the park up. In a town with significant commercial vacancy rates, and a valley with 900 square miles of open space, more open space seems hardly like a good answer for our downtown.
The second whammy has been the almost complete hollowing out of the town of Basalt by the Willits development. Our bike shop, outdoor store, clothing store, art gallery and groceries have all moved out to the highway. This is our version of big boxes devastating small towns. Only in this case, it has been facilitated by the town government with financial inducements and deferred fees. These inducements were needed to attract the Mariner Group and Whole Foods. No one anticipated that the old town would relocate to the highway en mass. We reward auto-oriented development and deny commercial core walkable spaces. What is happening here?
When everyone rallied to support our town with a $5 million bond issue last year, the vast majority were assured that expensive grading and utility improvements were being made to support new and exciting urban development in our urban core. Much of this expense was unneeded if all we were going to do was sterilize the land and keep the entire piece open.
I think we all acknowledge that you have difficult choices to make and I know that we have an outstanding Town Council. However, we are at a crucial crossroads: Will Basalt chose to be a progressive, inclusive, walkable, charming community? Or will we be known as a negative backwater where creative design ideas go to die?
Bill Kane is a former Basalt town manager, former Skico executive in charge of planning and development, former Aspen/Pitkin County planning director and a current advisory principal to Design Workshop.
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