“Don’t compromise your values just to get the job done.”
— Megan Linski,
“Court of Vampires”
After spending my first winter covering the Basalt town government (this would be well-nigh three years past), I swore that, if I never again heard the syllables, “CDC parcel,” I would dance my way through life a very happy man. I very mistakenly assumed that, by the time I returned to the Mid-Valley for my second winter-long stint covering the Basalt town government, the various intertwined controversies verily defining that seemingly perpetually contentious 2.3-acre parcel would be, if not completely dialed in, then at least on the road to happy resolution.
When I returned to the Mid-Valley for a third winter — this time to help launch the paper you hold in your hands — I was both disappointed and dumbfounded to learn that the CDC Parcel (from Hell) issue was still simmering, with no discernible light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
Guess I should have looked at it from a “glass half full” perspective. I should have been thankful for a never-ending supply of material. Slow news week? Well, there were always plenty of words to pen about the CDC parcel brouhaha! It was like “Groundhog Day” and “Night of the Living Dead” all rolled into one feedback-loop municipal nightmare that was only finally and thank-god-fully dislodged from the top of Basalt’s public discourse pyramid by the TABOR property tax fiasco that is still percolating.
It is salient to note that I have no direct monkey in the CDC parcel circus. I have never lived in Basalt and likely never will. My only direct contact with that lovely piece of terra firma comes by way of having walked my dog along the proximate banks of the Roaring Fork River (and within sight of the black-wrapped fence) several gabillion times — and from penning an equal number of stories on the controversy, which now seems to be on the verge of being laid to rest by way of a project proposed by Willits developer Tim Belinski. That proposal, which was unanimously approved on first reading by the Basalt Town Council a couple weeks back, calls for 24 residences, 27,000 square feet of commercial space, a restaurant and dedicated territory for the Art Space, to be crammed into 1.3 acres of the CDC parcel, with about an acre of the remaining land being purchased by the town to be added to the existing River Park.
Despite my admitted remove, I of course, over the last three years, have developed personal perspectives regarding what I thought ought to be done with the CDC parcel. By way of additional background: Last spring, I did an exhaustive amount of research on the “Our Town” community outreach effort that took place from 2012 to 2014, in the context of Basalt’s ongoing master plan update process. Additionally, I have spent a lot of time talking to people in Basalt about the CDC Parcel (from Hell). As a result, I have come to believe that more than half of Basalt residents continue to be in favor of “something” being built on the CDC parcel, at least partially to recoup the huge chunk of cash that has already been spent on the property by the town government, at least partially to help infuse downtown with additional (and much needed) vitality and at least partially to help provide additional housing opportunities.
At the same time, though, the contrary arguments have been simultaneously unavoidable and captivating. There is a sizeable percentage of Basalt’s population that would like to see the entire CDC parcel transformed into open-space parkland of some sort. While certainly understanding the perspectives of the pro-build-“something” group, I by nature sympathize more with the pro-park people. Were I a resident of Basalt, it is with that latter group that I would cast my lobbying lot.
That perspective is based partially on a long-lived and well-earned distrust of almost every predictable word that spews forth from the mouth of almost every developer who has ever drawn breath. (That’s what happens when you live in Summit County for two decades.) Though Belinski’s proposal seems to make superficial economic sense for Basalt, I think it will do little to address the downtown vibrancy issue, and I think it will end up being a drop in the housing bucket. Moreover, if the architectural blandness of the Willits Town Center is any indication of what will be forthcoming to the banks of the Roaring Fork as it flows through Basalt, I suspect it will be aesthetically uninspiring, maybe even unappealing.
In short, though I am certainly not disappointed that the CDC controversy looks to be nearing an end, I am a bit bummed that it was not resolved with more creativity. Personally, I would like to have seen something original, something no other town offers, something that would enhance Basalt’s enviable position as one of the coolest hamlets — geophysically and culturally — in the High Country. Like, perhaps, an arboretum. Or a butterfly pavilion. Something that would generate revenue and enhance the CDC property’s park-like nature, as well as giving the townspeople a unique amenity worth bragging about. Something that graduates of Basalt High School, when they bring their college roommate home for a visit, say, “I just have to show you this cool thing in my hometown!” Instead, they will get … yet another development.
Understand, Belinski’s reputation is above reproach. I’m sure he will do his best to live up to the Basalt town government’s design expectations. But, as several people who were quoted in Steve Alldredge’s RFWJ story on the unanimous CDC parcel vote noted, the project is a compromise, which, by one admittedly cynical definition, is “an agreement whereby both parties get what neither of them wanted.” Bernie Grauer, whom I like and respect, called it “appropriate.” Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said, “It will be good for us to have a decision.” There was no effusiveness. No “this is the best thing to happen to Basalt since the geological forces conspired to give us two Gold Medal trout streams!” Just a collective “meh” that amounts to a sigh of relief that this town-dividing saga might finally be over.
Much as I journalistically appreciate the fact that the CDC parcel controversy will soon become a thing of the past, I fear that the project the good people of Basalt will see being constructed along the banks of their beloved Roaring Fork River got the thumbs up because the town government wanted to see the issue laid to rest once and for all. I get it. But I don’t think those same good people will be overly proud of the result. I suspect, in a couple years, when the project is complete, the Basalt citizenry will collectively say, “We could have done so much better.”
“Compromise brings harmony to both, happiness to none.”
― Amit Kalantri
M. John Fayhee is the founding editor of the RFWJ. He pens his “Kill the Curmudgeon” column whenever inspiration compels him to attack his keyboard.