Basalt gives go ahead to Pan and Fork replacement housing search

by Nelson Harvey, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Council members urge those who support affordable housing to come forward

Town Manager Mike Scanlon will keep trying to find a way to build a new affordable housing project in Basalt where displaced residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park could live, after the Basalt Town Council signed off on the idea Tuesday night.

The council passed a resolution authorizing Scanlon to “explore additional options that could be considered within the relocation framework approved by the Town Council.” In practical terms, that means Scanlon will keep relocating those who want to accept cash assistance from the town, while trying to assemble the property and the partners for a replacement project that could house former trailer park residents down the line.

Scanlon said Tuesday that he has been meeting with Pitkin County since July to discuss possible locations for an affordable housing project in the Basalt area.

If the town can find partners to build such a project, he said, people who had been displaced from the trailer park — including those who have already accepted cash relocation assistance from the town — would be at the top of the list to move in if they could qualify and afford the rent or mortgage payments.

The resolution came in response to a letter published in local newspapers on Dec. 3 from a group called Workers for Justice and Diversity in Basalt (WJDB). Among other requests, the group demanded that the town find a way to provide replacement housing within the Basalt community for trailer park residents before proceeding with a redevelopment of the Pan and Fork parcel. The town is currently providing cash assistance to help people move, but many residents have said the money isn’t enough to stay in Basalt.

Nine members of the WJDB group came to Tuesday’s meeting, along with a community organizer from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition who is working with the group.

“We disagree with the current relocation process, and so do lots of people who have taken the deals,” WJDB leader Ralph Vazquez told the town council. “But we support 100 percent that Mike is taking the initiative” to investigate replacement housing options.

Councilman Rick Stevens urged anyone in the community who could help with a housing project for displaced residents to step up.

“People who have big fat checkbooks and say they support affordable housing should come forward,” Stevens said. “This is the year we’re going to get this done.”

He also offered a thinly veiled criticism of the Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation (RFCDC), the group that co-owns the Pan and Fork trailer park in partnership with the town and had been hoping to sell its portion and use the proceeds to build replacement housing for residents.

Stevens said the town was trying to move forward with equitable relocations despite “groups that haven’t held up their end of the bargain.”

And Councilman Rob Leavitt urged Vazquez and his group to help Scanlon in any way they could in his quest to make a replacement housing project feasible. Vazquez pledged that he would.

On Tuesday night, neither Scanlon nor representatives of WJDB brought up the group’s request, made in a formal letter given to Scanlon Monday night, that the town put up $10,000 so that group members can hire a lawyer to represent them during negotiations with the town over replacement housing.

Scanlon said after the meeting that he would gauge the council’s feelings about the request for a lawyer between now and the first council meeting in January.

Scanlon will meet with the Workers for Justice group in three weeks to provide an update on his efforts to make a replacement housing project work. He will brief the council again in about a month.

After the meeting, some WJDB members said the process was moving in a positive direction, but they wanted more certainty.

“If they offered us a contract that said they were going to build something, that would give me more confidence,” Vazquez said.