Letter: Buy the Basalt river parkland, wait on the improvements | AspenTimes.com

Letter: Buy the Basalt river parkland, wait on the improvements

If Basalt residents want to guarantee the possibility of a legacy river park at an affordable price, they should vote to purchase the Pan and Fork parcel; however, they should think twice about the $4.12 million in park improvements.

Please vote “yes” for ballot item 2F, but think about 2G.

With borrowing costs at a 60-year low and the price of the 2.3-acre parcel locked in at $2.9 million, the time is now for the town to be in control of the land. The proposed $800,000 contribution by Eagle and Pitkin counties sweetens the deal irresistibly.

Think about it: locking in riverfront land for $2.1 million, borrowing costs at about 1.5 percent interest and the ability to sell one acre for commercial development. Given that the value of the land will likely increase, the ultimate cost to the town could be about $1 million.

I’d buy that deal, if I had the cash. The cost to the residential property owners for the land would be less than half than for both the items. Residents would pay about $63 per year for six years, if they own a $500,000 home, by my calculations.

Failure to purchase the Pan and Fork parcel leaves the town owning only the land closest to the river, which lies mainly in an active floodway. Periodic flooding will render part or all of it unusable in high-water years.

No other town river parkland sits right at the entrance to the town, at the Midland Avenue Bridge. It will serve as the town’s front yard for play and relaxation as well as an icon for the town’s values. Acquisition of the land next to Two Rivers Road guarantees the park’s usability all summer, every year. It would provide a safe place for a restaurant and other uses.

The ballot item critics do have a point about the necessity of leaving financial room for future bonding for capital improvements and other town needs. Voting “yes” on 2F will give the council time to reassess the park design and phase in park development, consistent with cash flows from the Post Open Space and Trails Fund. The loss of full park enjoyment is a downside to this approach, but a reasonable one, given the town’s other needs.

Other critics have said an expanded park will not create the level of economic activity that, for example, a virtual wall of riverside condominiums would generate. That density level was rejected by both the prior council and the current one and is no longer necessary to revitalize downtown.

Under the forward-thinking leadership of Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, the council passed new zoning regulations that allow for the greatest commercial density where it belongs — right in the heart of the downtown, on and around the former Clark’s Market site. The zoning permits four-story commercial/residential buildings, with some setbacks, up to 45 feet tall. It provides for a simplified, two-step application process, potentially saving applicants tens of thousands of dollars. This new plan demonstrates that the mayor and the council support right-sized development, in the right place.

Some residents have raised concerns that the contribution by the Pitkin and Eagle funds would place a conservation easement on all of Basalt’s river parklands, wresting control from the town. That is not an issue, according to town staff. Any conservation easement necessary to protect town parkland from future development would be the result of a negotiation with the town, which would control the terms of the easement.

Please also vote “yes” for item 2H to allow use of up to 20 percent of the existing post tax to pay for maintenance and upkeep of all the parks, including this one. It does not create any additional tax, while preserving general fund revenue for other town uses.

I see this modest tax burden for the land purchase much like the proposed library tax, a civic investment in our future, which will pay forward for many generations. Vote “yes” for 2F.

Bernie Grauer