Scott: Real town of Basalt a jewel tarnished by big city ambitions
It appears the government of Basalt has the real town in its crosshairs.
Is it because they are envious about all the independent businesses in the downtown core of the real Basalt — you know, the town that puts the fork in the Roaring Fork, the community at the confluence of the Frying Pan and Roaring Fork rivers, the one that’s been here for over a 100 years?
Yes, that town is seemingly under attack.
Check Google maps, and search “Basalt.” You’ll find Basalt now on the other side of the Roaring Fork River from the original town, over there by El Jebel, an unincorporated township gobbled up by an aspiring city that wants to call itself Basalt. It’s that sprawling conglomeration of awful modern squares of urban architectural savagery that meanders from Original Road, across the metropolis of monopolistic corporate food, coffee and banking dealerships, and even includes a giant rectangular brick called the Steadman Clinic that wandered over here from Vail.
The only thing the real town of Basalt got out of the deal was a steel prison of river rocks where a yellow sculpture of a cockroach once stood at the intersection of Highway 82 and Two Rivers Road, an early iteration of this aspiring “city” investing taxpayer money in tasteless art to place across public land at their discretion as though these elected servants were landscape architects.
Maybe it’s no surprise that the current mayor of Basalt is a land planner and landscape architect who was the planning director for the city of Aspen from 1974-78 (Boy, has that town changed since then, with a thorough corporate takeover), was a partner and principal with Design Workshop in Aspen (They also have offices in multiple cities including Chicago, LA, Denver, Houston, Beijing and Dubai), worked for Aspen Skiing Co. as vice president for planning and development from 1996 to 2006 and then entered Basalt government as city manager in 2009. This all according to the Basalt.net official town website, which states that: “He was instrumental in the purchase of the Pan Fork and creation of inducements which attracted Whole Foods company to the valley.” (basalt.net/directory.aspx?EID=99)
The Pan Fork project, for those who remember, was the project to kick the working people and their trailers off riverfront property, and he’s credited with paving the road for Jeff Bezos’ perch in the valley, with the Whole Paycheck grocery store. Also, according to the Basalt official website profile of their mayor: “Bill is currently working on a special projects basis and advisory principal for Design Workshop.” (basalt.net/directory.aspx?EID=99)
And one of the Basalt Town Council members works for Connect One Design, which got over $800,000 of taxpayer funds to design the ripping up of Midland Avenue and its transformation into a pedestrian-friendly zone for walkabouts despite the fact that Midland Avenue is also the thoroughfare for vehicular transportation up and down the Fryingpan River to Ruedi Reservoir and the communities beyond it, like Thomasville and Meredith. She recused herself from the vote that awarded those funds, so we can all just look down at our phones because there is nothing to see here, folks.
They decorated the rock prison with bows and wreaths for the holidays, as if to show the giant monetary gift that turning Basalt into El Jebel City with Whole Foods and City Market and a big corporate shopping center at its core would give to the growing municipal government.
A gift they are giving back to the real town of Basalt by ripping up its historic main street, removing parking spaces like the failed Aspen Living Lab proved the stupidity of — only Big City Basalt wants to make the mistake permanent instead of temporary.
The actual town of Basalt is a jewel in this valley, even though you can no longer find it on a map. The restaurants along Midland Avenue — like Tempranillo, Bernard’s, Heather’s, Two Rivers Cafe, and CC’s Cafe — are precious. But make no mistake: Tearing up the parking and the road their customers use in this terroristic municipal overreach — all now profiting the same contractor that the Basalt government hired for $150,000, as the “construction manager and general contractor” (Aspen Times, Mar. 9, 2022: “Basalt’s 11.7 million Midland Avenue project gets green light”) before the concrete even started flowing — is going to hurt these businesses, and some of them won’t survive.
This new city-like entity doesn’t seem to care. Maybe they’d rather have big corporate stores, paying big corporate landlords, to bring in big corporate revenues, to continue the erosion of citizen-led democracy that we’ve seen in Aspen, the rest of the USA, and around the world.
There was never a mandate for this municipal overreach, but that, nor the fact that a massive housing shortage exists whereby they could invest in housing instead of bad art and landscape overhauls, hasn’t stopped them.
As the Basalt mayor himself said: “We’re going to tear the place up pretty substantially.” (Aspen Times, March 9, 2022: “Basalt’s 11.7 Million Midland Avenue project gets green light.”) How much more of this nonsense will the people stand?
Andrew Scott, of Snowmass, is the manager of KSNO radio and director of operations of the Open Mind Project.