Basalt council votes to seek riverside park improvements, pursue surprise purchase
The Aspen Times
The Basalt Town Council possibly doused one controversy and inflamed another Tuesday night.
The council voted unanimously to pursue a landscaping project to get 1 acre of land it already owns by the Roaring Fork River usable as a park for the second half of the summer. The council has been criticized for inaction on what many people feel could be a great town amenity.
But the council also risked reigniting ire by directing its staff to look into buying additional land at the Pan and Fork site — despite the outcome of a ballot question in November.
Council members said getting the riverside park in usable condition was a long time coming. The board voted 7-0 to spend up to $100,000 to irrigate, grade the ground, seed with grass and plant trees on the property.
“I think the community expects nothing less than this,” said Mayor Jacque Whitsitt.
Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle said she and other council members initially had a vision of spending a bare minimum on the property — “just lipstick on a pig” — until a bigger plan is set for the town-owned property and the adjacent privately owned land along Two River Roads. But she decided spending more at this time is a better plan after walking the property with town staff and elected officials on Friday.
“This brings it up a higher notch than just lipstick,” Riffle said.
The plan is to put the project out for bid by April 26, start construction by May 22 and complete it by June 9. The site, formally called Basalt River Park, would be ready for prime time in early August. Councilman Mark Kittle, who proposed the course of action, said it is his hope that the park will be ready by July 4th, particularly if it is sodded rather than seeded.
While the council cited the need to be sensitive to public opinion on the riverside park, it also risked going against the grain on the adjacent property owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. The council informally agreed to have its staff look into buying the property even though voters rejected the idea in November.
Councilman Bernie Grauer proposed the idea, which wasn’t on the agenda. He said buying the 2.3 acres owned by the Community Development Corp. would put the town “in a position to control our own destiny.”
The November election was one of the most hard fought and divisive in the town’s history. The town lobbied to use part of the property for park and part for development. The idea of a boutique hotel, a restaurant and other ideas were floated for the development part, but no guarantees were given on the development side.
Opponents said the town was spending too much for a park that would do too little to generate vitality in downtown Basalt.
The town’s proposal to buy the 2.3 acres lost by a narrow margin. Grauer acknowledged that the issue divided the town. Nevertheless, he said the best path forward would be for the town to reconsider a purchase — without raising property taxes. He proposed the town explore buying the land with existing sales taxes dedicated to open space and trails.
The town could borrow from its reserves to make the purchase and repay through the sales tax for open space, he said.
“This would be a short-term loan that would be paid back,” Grauer said.
He proposed that the staff investigate the idea and return with information about a possible purchase at the April 25 meeting. There were no comments from other council members, so the direction was given by default.
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