When does no design trump good design?
After sharing a delightful lunch at the Riverside Grill overlooking the Frying Pan River, my guest from Denver and I walked over to the corner of Midland and Two Rivers. I tried to describe what had been intended for this property over the past 19 years of planning and how it had become the center of a divisive fight between those of us who have championed moving our town in the direction of renewed vitality and those who fear that any attempt to develop a portion of the small remaining parcel of property might obscure the vision of Basalt forever. By noon, the temperature had reached about 84 degrees and everyone in the town had sought refuge somewhere in the shade. I gazed down at the few saplings that were soon to be planted and thought about the other riverfront parks in Colorado that I had visited and what it might take to come even close to matching them or, as has been suggested, becoming “the finest public riverfront park in the U.S.” As previously mentioned, the communities of Golden, Salida, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and Durango, to mention a few, have found a way to frame their riverfronts with commercial and residential, bringing visitors and residents together to enjoy their river overlooks. In addition, it is to their good fortune that the mature natural landscape, an important and critical part of the picture, represents many decades of growth — maybe a century — providing shelter from the sun and heat that bakes our open spaces each summer. Think about seeking refuge from the heat at our Crown Mountain Park.
As we all hope that this park will become a meeting place for us all and for the occasional festival that we may host, it’s important to be clear about what this space is and what it is not and what it might take just to make it a desirable gathering space during our summers. Until the sun goes down late this afternoon, no one will be out there for very long — if at all.
This year, as an unusual example, a third of the property was flooded. It was almost the last week of July before we could repair the damage from the overflow. In two weeks, our kids will be back in school and in four weeks we’ll have the fall colors beginning. With few options open for staying overnight in Old Town Basalt and fewer options for multifamily living — affordable or not — and almost no possibility of finding day care in the community for the preschool set, have we limited just who we are to providing lunches and dinners to the passersby? For whom and for how many months each year will this park serve its altruistic goals? Could its expressed uniqueness draw visitors from all over? Are we all of a sudden a different community that thrived once before, even with a slumlike trailer park in the middle of town?
We’re about to find out what the economic impact is to be to each of us depending upon what portion of the property is allowed to be developed or not. I, for one, would not be willing to ante up any additional taxes to purchase the entire parcel of land, no less landscape the five acres; or to forgo the $2.5 million that a developer would reimburse us for the land and infrastructure that we have installed (think of how beautifully we could landscape the park along the river with that); or to forgo the affordable living component that the developer would otherwise be on the hook for; or to forgo the daily and annual revenues that the proposed development would mean to our town, our businesses and to our schools; or to forgo the renewed vitality that overnight visitors and new residents alike would bring to the town all year round — 24/7. Which of those issues would be answered by leaving the space vacant? When does no design trump good design?
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