Pitkin, Eagle pledge $800,000 to help Basalt buy more Pan and Fork property | PostIndependent.com

Pitkin, Eagle pledge $800,000 to help Basalt buy more Pan and Fork property

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
A pedestrian walks along the Roaring Fork River in Basalt. The open space programs of Pitkin and Eagle counties have offered up to $400,000 each to help Basalt acquire more land at the Pan and Fork site for a park.
Aspen Times file |

The open space programs of Pitkin and Eagle counties have pledged $400,000 each for Basalt’s potential purchase of the remainder of the Pan and Fork property.

The decisions came less than a week before ballots are mailed and voters will be asked to decide whether the purchase of 2.3 acres owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. should be pursued.

The town has a contract to purchase the property for $2.9 million. It’s contingent on voters approving question 2F for a bond issue that would be repaid through a property tax.

Proponents of the ballot question can now say Basalt will receive $800,000 to be applied to the purchase if voters approve the proposal.

“Basalt has been an amazing partner to Pitkin County over the years. We take that partnership seriously.” — Dale Will, Pitkin County Open Space

“It’s a game changer,” said Basalt resident Doug MacDonald, who is working for to get the ballot question approved. “It will get voters’ attention.”

Basalt’s partnership rewarded

Eagle County officials considered the Basalt contribution this week, according to Toby Sprunk, the open space program director.

“We’ve got conceptual approval of both the county commissioners and our open space advisory board,” he said.

Dale Will, who handles acquisitions for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, said the Pitkin County commissioners unanimously expressed support Tuesday for contributing to Basalt’s purchase. The open space board gave its blessing to the deal last week.

A formal vote would be required by both boards of both counties.

“Basalt has been an amazing partner to Pitkin County over the years,” Will said. “We take that partnership seriously.”

The town government has contributed $1.9 million for purchases of open space or easements arranged by Pitkin County in the midvalley in recent years, Will said. Those projects include the Emma homestead property, Glassier ranch and Grange ranch easements.

Now Pitkin County can assist Basalt with a project important to the town, he added.

Funding for park addition

While the town has negotiated the purchase of 2.3 acres from Community Development Corp., the counties would donate funds to the purchase of the portion that would be used as a park, Will said. Of the 2.3 acres, Basalt is proposing to add 1.3 acres to a riverfront park. The other acre being sought will be dedicated to some type of commercial or public purpose development, according to the ballot language.

The town already owns property along the Roaring Fork River and is working on a park. The CDC property would be added to that park.

Will said Pitkin County Open Space would ask for a conservation easement on the 1.3 acres designated for park, if the purchase is approved. It also wants a conservation easement placed on the property the town already owns along the river.

“The town would own it, and we’d hold a conservation easement,” Will said. That easement wouldn’t affect the 1 acre eyed for development.

Although the property is in Eagle County, Will said Pitkin County residents will benefit from the town’s purchase. Basalt residents enjoy downtown Basalt, and Will said he believes they would enjoy the type of river park envisioned by Basalt officials.

“We think towns benefit from having river parks,” Will said.

Eagle County’s Sprunk also cited the past partnerships with Basalt and Pitkin County as a reason to contribute funds to the land acquisition.

“First and foremost, it’s the town of Basalt’s number one priority,” he said.

Grants would reduce debt

Critics of the proposed purchase have said Basalt has already spent too much money on the Pan and Fork property — acquiring a portion of it, relocating residents of the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, reducing the flood risk with river work and adding infrastructure.

A leading critic on financial grounds, Steve Chase, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday about the new $800,000 pledge from the counties.

Paul Wisor, an attorney for the bond company working with Basalt on the proposal, said the funds from the open space programs could be used to reduce the debt the town incurs to acquire the property or to repay the bonds quicker, thus saving the town money. Reducing the debt or paying off bonds quicker depends on when the county grants become available, he said.

The wording of ballot question 2F seeks approval to issue up to $3.1 million in debt for the land purchase. After the wording was finalized, the town signed a contract to buy the property for $2.9 million.

Reaping $800,000 in grants could reduce the burden on town taxpayers to $2.1 million for the purchase

Wisor noted that if the town issues bonds for more than the purchase price, the funds couldn’t be used for other purposes.

Basalt also has question 2G on the November ballot. That asks for bonding for up to $4 million for improvements associated with the park.

2G is tied to approval of 2F. If voters don’t approve the debt for the land purchase, the bonds won’t be issued for the park improvements. Instead, the town will pay for incremental improvements to the park through existing funding sources, Councilman Auden Schendler has said in previous public meetings.

If both ballot questions are approved, Basalt’s combined debt would be $6.1 million for the purchase and park improvements.

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said Tuesday she hopes voters will consider the grants from the counties’ open space programs when making their decisions.

“This is a giant shot in the arm for the purchase of the property,” she said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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