The Basalt Town Council Tuesday night approved the Basalt River Park development 5-0 on first reading, and deadlocked on the Aspen Skiing Co.’s employee housing proposal in Willits Town Center.
“I think the process has worked,” said Tim Belinski, a local businessman and developer who heads Basalt River Park LLC. “There has been a lot of community buy in, a lot of community involvement. Before I got involved, there was a lot of history. I picked this up and tried to reconcile that and balance it out and make it work, and I think we’re there.”
The Basalt River Park proposal caps a seven-year battle over what to do with the former 2.3-acre Pan and Fork mobile home space along the Roaring Fork River just west of downtown Basalt. Some elected officials wanted the acreage to be all park, while some wanted more development to boost downtown Basalt businesses.
In the end, there was compromise. Town councilmen Gary Tennenbaum and Auden Schendler both noted that the project was not perfect, but that there were many community benefits to go along with the residential development.
As approved on first reading, the Basalt River Park project will include 24 residences that range from rent-controlled units to free-market apartments to luxury river cabins. The project also calls for the creation of about 27,000 square feet of commercial space, which is considerably less than the 150,000 square feet of commercial space proposed by a previous developer for the site.
The compromise calls for the Town of Basalt to purchase about one acre, located on the eastern part of the development, for a river park. They will pay $1.2 million for that parcel, and another corridor of open space on the western edge of the development near Rocky Mountain Institute for $146,517.
As part of the proposal, Basalt River Park LLC also agreed to build a 3,000-square-foot restaurant with a 1,500-square-foot patio on the eastern edge near the new park.
Developer on the hook for more money
Part of the compromise involves the developer taking on additional financial responsibilities, and Bruce Kimmel of Ehlers Public Finance, an independent municipal advisory firm. Those terms were presented to the council on Tuesday night.
Ehlers previously advised council that approximately $750,000 in costs should be shifted from the town to the developer.
As part of the rebalancing, Basalt Park River LLC will now fund $600,000 of road and sidewalk improvements, bus stops, public restrooms and a parking area. That reduces the town’s costs for those amenities to about $244,000. Town government will buy the space earmarked for the nonprofit Art Base community arts center for $158,000, or the appraised value of the space, whichever is less.
The compromise allows the developer to increase the side of the luxury river cabins from 1,600 square feet up to 1,900 square feet.
Supporters, those opposed to the project, and those in the middle, voiced their comments to town council.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt may have best summed up the past controversy about what to do with this key parcel of land best with: “We all had a vision (for this property). We all had a separate vision. The public’s (previous) no vote controlled the destiny. We have gained a lot. It will be good for us to have a decision.”
Former Basalt councilor Bernie Grauer, a current member of the planning and zoning commission, noted the compromise and called it “a sweet spot.” In a previous town survey, 77 percent wanted the property to be all park, but when a ballot measure was offered to the town’s residents to purchase all of the land with property taxes, it was voted down.
“The size, scale and mass (of the current proposal) are appropriate,” Grauer noted.
Not everyone in the audience agreed, including a gentleman who interrupted Schendler’s comments by telling him not to compromise.
Basalt businessman Royal Laybourn was blunt: “The public is not getting what they want. The developer is getting what they want.”
Local resident Gerry Terwilliger agreed, telling elected officials, “It's time for council to represent the town, not the developer.”
After receiving its first-round approval, Basalt River Park LLC will return to council for additional approvals in the future after offering greater details of the project.
Skico’s Willits proposal deadlocked
The Basalt Town Council deadlocked 2-2 Tuesday night in considering the Aspen Skiing Co.’s worker housing proposal on Block 9 in Willits. Council member Auden Schendler, who is a senior executive for the company, recused himself and council members Jennifer Riffle and Katie Schwoerer were unavailable for the May 28 meeting.
The Aspen Skiing Co. is proposing to build 36 units and 148 bedrooms, with sizes ranging from one to six bedrooms. Also included are eight units of rent-controlled housing on the first floor of the building instead of the previously approved commercial space. Those units are currently being designated as a priority for childcare workers.
Parking would be handled by the company’s plans to build 34 off-street parking spaces and use 33 public spaces. SkiCo has proposed both leasing and, in their latest iteration, buying those spaces for $202,000.
Two weeks ago, there was a general consensus by the Basalt Town Council, and many local residents, that the proposal should be amended to remove the public spaces and instead provide parking in an underground garage.
Before Tuesday night's meeting, the SkiCo offered two options: purchase the public parking spaces for $202,000 or tweak their development proposal by building underground parking and converting six-bedroom units to four-bedroom units.
But when David Corbin, the SkiCo’s senior vice president for planning and development, and Philip Jeffreys, the project manger of the proposal, sat down this week before Basalt Town Council to discuss the development, the financial realities of the project were revealed. Corbin told those assembled that recent new discussions with the proposed contractor showed that costs had increased 17 percent since December on the original proposal and that the new alternative would run 32 percent higher, making the project unaffordable for employees and unviable for the company.
Project manager Jeffreys returned to the original proposal, including the purchasing of the public spaces for $202,000; he continued to sell council on the benefits of additional employee housing in Willits at affordable rental prices.
Both Jeffreys and Corbin detailed how the parking issues at Willits, which has been noted by many Willits residents, are mainly management and enforcement issues, instead of a lack of public spaces, and that original approvals for this building would build over 90 bedrooms and house many more people, many of them with cars.
“The alternative is much worse,” explained Jeffreys. “Parking is the biggest concern, and it will be a problem either way. Parking enforcement needs to align with reality.”
Jeffreys also noted that the original approval for the commercial space in the building used the public spaces around the building for parking, and that if the company removed the commercial from the space and built the rent-controlled units instead, then those public spaces designated for that commercial space should be reallocated to residential in the company's development proposal.
During public comments, the room remained as divided as it was two weeks ago.
Basaltine Carol Hawk voiced her opinion about the alternative proposal 2, with the underground parking, noting that it is “much more compatible” with the surrounding neighborhood. Resident Cathy Click, meanwhile, voiced her approval of the project and alternative one because it “encourages more mass transit.”
The council was just as divided. Council members Gary Tennenbaum and Bill Infante voiced their approval for alternative number one, which would allow SkiCo to use the public spaces instead of building underground parking.
“We need to see SkiCo and its employees as allies," said Infante.
Tennenbaum noted, “We asked developers to propose (affordable housing) project. I look at this as a project we should be encouraging.”
Mayor Whitsitt and council member Ryan Slack had different opinions. “I'm sad you brought alternative two when you didn't mean it.” Whitsitt later noted what other some other Basalt residents had also expressed: “Given the environment values SkiCo has, this should be (built) closer to Aspen.”
Council member Tennenbaum offered a motion for approval of alternative one. The vote deadlocked at 2-2 and will now appear again before Basalt Town Council on June 11 when additional council members are anticipated to be present.