Basalt is a lively, passionate Town with an inspiring trove of talent, experience and opinion.
Last Tuesday, at a Basalt Town Council work session, Mayor Jacque Whitsitt again set off a rapid fire exchange of citizen comment over the future of the Two Rivers Road riverfront parcel slated for park and commercial development.
Heartfelt comments ranging from full open space preservation to a mix of commercial and park burst out on the sidewalks, through emails and in the local media. I typically don't include "letters to the editor" among the
Basalt in the News
entries, but on this occasion the letters document an age-old dynamic, not just in Basalt but in communities throughout the country, throughout time.
On the surface, it is a tug-of-war between development and anti-development advocates. The reality in Basalt is much more nuanced, and founded in a history both troubled and brilliant. Some long-timers remember with dismay decisions made over intersections, bridges and the location of City Market now in Orchard Plaza. Some feel the entire Willits Town Center development should be a straight ride across Highway 82 from historic downtown.
What I see is a Town that, like others, has made mistakes but also has implemented thoughtful, progressive programs seldom discussed or appreciated. I see a vital multifaceted commercial center just minutes from our downtown, providing essential revenues that better enable the Town to make improvements, invest in open space, and support community development. I also see lovely historic downtown still struggling from the 2008 economic downturn and a hodgepodge of other factors.
It's true that some businesses have moved from downtown to Willits, just as others have closed down for reasons too varied to mention here. What I seldom hear is that the Willits Town Center may have created an opportunity for downtown businesses still wobbly from the impact of time, economic fluctuations, and a fundamental need to get together, create a common front, market collaboratively to sustain a strong and vital economic pulse.
Last year, the Basalt Downtown Business Center formed to do just that. A good handful of business owners have persevered and are working to revitalize the downtown. I've just joined the Board of that association, cementing a commitment to unite efforts, as the Chamber has done with the Basalt Business Center, Willits management, and the diverse commercial areas of the full Basalt community.
What does this have to do with the current "discussion" over the development of the former Pan and Fork Trailer Park?
Around the same time that the Basalt downtown business owners decided they needed to pro-actively protect and promote their shops, restaurants and property, Town staff and citizens began the year-long "Our Town" Planning process, a creative "placemaking" endeavor that calls upon citizens to step in at progressive stages to map out the course for the Town's future. This process has been comprehensive and inclusive, resulting in hundreds of maps and thousands of ideas, fine-tuned at the end of last year by the citizen Downtown Area Advisory Committee (DAAC), made up of 10 representatives appointed by the Town Council including the Mayor who serves as one of seven council members with equal vote.
Jim DeFrancia, president of Lowe Enterprises, the real estate organization that stepped in six months or so ago to consider if their business model was a fit for the Town of Basalt, attended those meetings as did Michael McVoy, president of the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation which owns the 2.4 acres at the corner of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue. Stretching from this site to the Roaring Fork River is 2.8 acres, owned by the Town and set aside for a riverfront park. Further down Two Rivers Road, we see the walls of the Rocky Mountain Institute's new Innovation Center rising upward, and close beside we anticipate the Roaring Fork Conservancy's new River Center. What Basalt will see in barely a year is already a thrilling mix of progressive design, internationally-renowned thinkers, finely landscaped park area and hopefully a cluster of something that will support the revitalization efforts of the Town, Chamber and BDBA and the long-term health and livability of the community.
The Basalt Chamber of Commerce believes wholeheartedly in what the citizens, staff and elected officials have implemented over the last year. The Chamber's Board of Directors doesn't have a formal statement on the project itself, so the following observations arise solely from my close observation of this process, attendance at nearly every Town Council meeting, conversations with citizens and business owners alike:
- There is general unanimity that the parcel that stretches from Two Rivers Road to the Roaring Fork River is a gem in our midst;
- Basalt is guaranteed to have substantial park area along the river via the Town's 2.9 riverfront acres. In addition, approximately 60 percent of the Lowe Enterprises development site is currently slated for open space. Throughout the parcel, green space preservation is projected at around 80 percent.
- The Lowe Enterprises conceptual plan, presented by Cottle Carr Yaw Architects of Basalt, show faithfulness to the DAAC's strong recommendation that "open view planes" to the river be maintained; it goes beyond simple bricks and mortar, offering a vision of gathering places, walking paths and connectivity to downtown;
- Plans for affordable housing in Basalt continue, and Lowe Enterprises president Jim DeFrancia is working with the Town to contribute to these efforts as is the Willits Town Center and others;
- This is an interactive process that has enabled an unprecedented amount of community participation, ample opportunities for which are still ahead.
Is 80 percent park space enough? Is the current development proposal too little for needed revitalization or too much for the balance we seek? These are decisions unique to each of us, and ultimately the members of our Town Council must decide what is in the best interests of our overall community.
Let's not get distracted by personalities or fall into intransigent positions. In keeping with the "bottom up" process that has carried our town to the this moment, Lowe Enterprises has invited the full citizenship to participate and provide input. Mr. DeFrancia, not his vice-presidents or PR people, has been at each meeting. He's prepared carefully and listens thoughtfully. The company has 40 years of successful and responsible development behind them. Let's listen just as carefully and imagine the true possibilities of what's before us.
Here are a few links to help each of us strengthen our perspective and participate responsibly:
The next public hearing is Tuesday, April 14th in the Basalt Library Community Room.
Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting & Luncheon ~ Thursday, April 16, 11:30 at Tempranillo Restaurant
The Basalt Chamber of Commerce's 2015 Annual Meeting and Luncheon will feature a round table presentation by several immensely successful and contributory members of our community: Town Manager Mike Scanlon to speak on what makes a Town; Tim Belinski of Willits Town Center will describe the creation of the most unique development community in the valley and what he see's ahead for Basalt; Michael Kinsley, longtime consultant and spokesperson for the Rocky Mountain Institute will discuss the new Innovation Center and why RMI chose Basalt; long-time Aspen Public Radio journalist and broadcaster Marci Krivonen will discuss the changes she's seen in Basalt over the last year. You'll get the Chamber's update and financials, of course, and you'll also have an opportunity to ask questions and mingle with local business owners. Most importantly, you'll be able to share our excitement about what's happening in Basalt and the bright future ahead.
The luncheon will take place Thursday, April 16, from 11:30 to 1:15 at Tempranillo Restaurant in Basalt. Seating is very limited and filling up fast.
soon to be ensure a place. More information is available
The Basalt Community Guide & Business Directory ~ A Phenomenal Success... so Far!
I meet today with our design team to wrap up the production schedule for the 2015
Basalt Community Guide & Business Directory
. It's thrilling how much support we've had for the magazine this year. Thirty percent larger and classier than ever, I know you'll be proud of this testament to the beauty and allure of Basalt. I'm not sure but I think we have a few ad spaces left, after the recent page increase. If you've not yet reserved, and would like to grab one the last spaces or be on the waiting list in case we expand further, give Lorie a call at (970) 948-6501 or send her an
. You'll find all the information