Letter: Don’t let developer’s interests come before public’s | AspenTimes.com

Letter: Don’t let developer’s interests come before public’s

Regarding the latest column by R.J. Gallagher Jr. in the Aug. 19 Aspen Times espousing the virtues of a master plan (“Don’t let Pan and Fork be the one that gets away,” Commentary): The only way the Pan and Fork can get away is by squandering this rare jewel and by converting what could become the finest public riverfront park in the U.S. into a private-serving amenity. Don’t be fooled by the idea that a team of profit-driven “expert planners” know what is better for Basalt than the residents do. The master plan is now being debated again, and a developer with tens of millions in profit on the line has different priorities and values from those that would be best for the majority of residents. The public typically is at a disadvantage in this process because it does not have full-time folks on its side lobbying and holding carrots out to as many as are needed to sell a short-term, privatized vision. When a process is directed by planners, architects and consultants who work hand in hand with the hope to be developers, it really becomes the developer’s vision that is spun as what is best for the town. This is no way for a town to direct the revision of a master plan. Utter nonsense. As a resident of Basalt, and having watched with amazement as the conflict-of-interest-laden process has been unfolding, I have 1,000 percent greater faith in the collective intelligence of the town’s residents, with intentions in the right place, than the developer’s planning team to determine what is best for Basalt. For 50 years, the river was blocked from Basalt and in our minds this area was unrecognized for its beauty. Plans were set in motion based upon replacing a trailer park with something better than that. Now we have seen the magic sparkle of the river from the streets of Basalt, and so has the developer. The lobbying is running at full throttle to get the developer’s agenda memorialized into a master plan. The public is now awake to the spectacular value of this property that was not apparent one year ago when the last trailers were just being moved off-site and the property had not been regraded. The public deserves to have a river park that is worthy of the only town in North America with two Gold Medal trout rivers. A largely open, public river park will ensure that Basalt is all it can be. That is why Basalt needs to pause and look at all the options for the river property, specifically those that were not allowed to be considered during this developer-driven process since November, before making any moves to amend the master plan. If what this developer has is so good for Basalt, it will bear the test of comparison-option shopping. A referendum may be the only acceptable choice unless a master plan is amended so that it does not have a predetermined developer’s welfare as its highest priority.

Mark Kwiecienski