It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the war of converting the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park to the Basalt River Park began, but now, at least, we know the day hostilities ceased: Feb. 25, 2020.
That’s the day (Tuesday at 8:46 p.m., actually) that the Basalt Town Council voted 7-0 to grant final approval to three ordinances and one resolution necessary for the Basalt River Park Development to break ground.
It means the end of a decade-long conflict that divided Basalt citizens in a way that sometimes turned ugly and will likely leave some scars, and which side you think won the war may depend entirely on your perspective.
Those who favored turning the whole Pan and Fork site into a park will be sorely disappointed, and those who wanted all the housing in the development to be of the affordable variety won’t be very happy either. There won’t be a hotel, boutique or otherwise, nor will there be a campus for nonprofits, and we won’t be getting a beer garden, despite strong support for one among the local populace.
But what we will be getting, however we each may feel about it personally, is perhaps the best compromise we could get after the way the whole conversion was handled from the very beginning.
There will be 11 townhomes and 13 other residences at the end of the property nearest the Rocky Mountain Institute, though just four of them will be affordable and deed-restricted.
There will also be 11,500 square feet of office space in what’s being called the Maker Building and a 3,000-square-foot restaurant with a large patio overlooking the park. In between the Maker Building and the restaurant, the Art Base will be getting a new two-story, 6,000-square-foot home with a park-side patio and, potentially, a rooftop café. The Town of Basalt, through one of the ordinances, will pay $1.34 million out of a dedicated open space and parks fund to buy nearly an acre at the end of the property near the corner of Midland Avenue and Two Rivers Road to expand the Basalt River Park. The purchase means the plans for the park, designed by CTA Architects Engineers and Basalt’s Connect One Design, can be implemented starting this summer.
Basalt citizens will have to be patient with the rest of the development, though. Tim Belinski, who heads the Basalt River Park Development group, said that construction of the residential portions of the project is slated to begin in March 2021. The restaurant and commercial spaces won’t get started until April 2022, and the Art Base won’t break ground until summer 2022.
Belinski stressed that both the Art Base and the restaurant should be completed by June 2023, meaning that – in a public sense anyway – we know when Basalt’s future will arrive. If Tuesday night was our official ceasefire, summer 2023 will be when we can finally move on and get back to our new normal.
Before we do, though, it’s worth a trip down memory lane to remember what our old normal was and take a look at the process that led up to Tuesday night’s vote.
Less than a decade ago, the Pan and Fork was home to numerous mature cottonwood trees, 37 trailers – housing of the most affordable kind – and an estimated 100-plus residents, almost all of whom were Latino. There was also Taqueria el Nopal and a kind-of-creepy out-of-business video store where the RMI and Roaring Fork Conservancy buildings are now.
As far back as at least 2004, there was talk of relocating the citizens of the Pan and Fork because the low-lying property posed a flooding risk and was deemed too dangerous to live in – despite having not flooded in such a way in anyone’s memory.
In 2009, the town of Basalt entered into talks with Pitkin County to try to work out a land acquisition deal that would leave the town in possession of the Pan and Fork site and open up two parcels within Basalt to relocate the Pan and Fork residents and the residents of the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park (the one adjacent to the Basalt roundabout), which was also deemed a flood risk.
That grand plan never came to fruition, and in 2010 the Pan and Fork property was purchased on behalf of Basalt by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. Around 2013, the trailer owners, typically compensated more than $20,000 by the town, were forced to move out with no concrete relocation plan. The property was then filled with countless truckloads of dirt to bring it up out of the floodplain, and every last tree was cut down.
The portion of the property along the Roaring Fork River went to the town as part of the RFCDC’s purchase agreement, and in 2016, Basalt voters were asked if they wanted to buy the remaining 2.3 acres. That measure was defeated, and for the last four years those acres, fenced off to discourage any sort of use, have sat weedy and vacant.
Two developers’ ideas for the property never went anywhere, and though the town launched its extensive Our Town Planning initiative to gather public input, the data did little to move the needle one way or the other.
That data was taken heavily into account by the Basalt River Park Development group, however, according to Belinski, and he feels the results bear that out. They may. It just depends on you and if the results are in line with what you thought the property should be.
At any rate, whether you’re happy with the final results or not, the site’s future seems to be mapped out – at least for now. If all goes as planned, it should be here in a little over three years. That much was decided on Tuesday night when the war finally ended and the reconstruction and healing were allowed to begin.