Guest Commentary: Nearly $9 million more for the Pan & Fork parcel?
Should Basalt voters commit an additional $7.2 million (as much as $8.85 million including debt service) to the Pan and Fork parcel?
Proponents of bond measures 2F and 2G claim that an expansive park will revitalize downtown Basalt by attracting tourists in both summer and winter.
Is there a reasonable basis for those claims?
Basalt voters approved $5 million in tax increases for the parcel (as much as $6.5 million including debt service) by a 66 percent to 34 percent margin in 2013, which guarantees that part of the parcel must be used for a park. Instead of honoring the will of an overwhelming majority of Basalt’s voters and carrying out the project as approved, the town spent millions in taxpayer dollars, left the parcel sitting idle and then decided to ask for another $7 to 9 million. A more sensible course would be to complete the original project.
The town has said very little about what an additional $7 to 9 million would accomplish. A rendering distributed by the town depicts the unused plot that exists now supplemented with a seasonal playground, a band shell and a public restroom. Given that there already is a band shell directly across the street in Lions Park and public restrooms across the street next to Town Hall, the plan lacks imagination, at best.
Such vague and poorly devised proposals arise from an utter lack of planning for a key downtown parcel while also ignoring the creative input from hundreds of Basalt residents who participated in the “Our Town” visioning process after the 2013 bond initiative was passed.
Voters should consider how 2F and 2G would affect taxpaying citizens. The combined tax bill for the 2013 bond initiatives, plus 2F and 2G, would come to as much as $15.35 million. Given the 1,600 Basalt households (according to the 2010 U.S. Census), that amounts to $9,594 in tax increases per household, paid through higher property taxes as well as higher prices for rent, groceries, fuel, dining and anything else purchased in Basalt. Wouldn’t the additional millions be better spent on affordable housing, child care, senior services and better schools? Or simply retained by households and working families?
Voters also should consider that since 2F and 2G would do little to improve the parcel itself, the town assuredly will be asking for millions more two or three years from now, for things such as paved parking and other infrastructure.
Voters should ask why no studies have been done to back up claims that a park larger than the one approved in 2013 will revitalize downtown. Neither bond proponents nor the town have undertaken studies to determine whether spending $15 million-plus on the parcel is sensible. There is no documented evidence — none — to support the notion that adding 6 more acres to some 30 acres of park already existing in and around downtown will attract tourists or revitalize downtown.
Nor have the town or bond proponents bothered with other important yet costly particulars. For example, if activities will be needed to attract tourists, how will the town pay for the ongoing management, marketing, staffing and maintenance? If the park is to be a draw in the winter, what sorts of facilities and staffing will be required? How much of the park will be paved over, since visitors from out of town, if in fact they could be persuaded to drive to Basalt to visit a park, would need a place to park their cars? Such realities explain why the town eventually will ask for still more millions even if 2F and 2G pass.
Additionally, voters should not accept the argument that if they do not act now by approving measure 2F, developers will swoop in and build some outsized monstrosity on the site, and that there will be no park. In fact, passage of the 2013 bond measure ensures that a sizable portion of the parcel is set aside for a park. Furthermore, a majority of the Town Council is openly hostile to density and commercial development and wields zoning power over the site.
By voting “no” on 2F and 2G, voters can send a message to the town to comply with the results of the 2013 bond initiative and complete the $5 to 6.5 million project we already have voted on and added to our tax bills. In other words, don’t come back to us with more tax increases if you don’t even have a sensible plan and until you make good on what we’ve already approved and paid for.
Lester Craft is a resident of Basalt.
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