Last month, the Basalt Town Council had the chance to review a housing application from Aspen Skiing Co. for housing at Willits Town Center.
The conversation around this housing project was never if affordable housing was necessary or appropriate for Willits – it is. The question was, is it acceptable for SkiCo, one of our valley’s largest employers, to build housing only for SkiCo? With no units built specifically for Basalt residents, I questioned SkiCo’s intentions to build SkiCo housing in Basalt, if there are shared values with the members of our community and what SkiCo’s corporate responsibilities should be.
If only the Basalt Town Council would have done the same, we may have not only gained units for Basalt but set the groundwork for a different kind of relationship with SkiCo in the future.
Global companies around the world are beginning to see corporate responsibility – working intimately within the communities where they operate (in this case, Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale) on par with sustainability. This goes beyond philanthropy; this goes directly to the heart of what matters most in Basalt. SkiCo has a strong history of sustainability. When will it turn its focus to investing in and advancing the culture of the downvalley communities it also calls home?
SkiCo has a huge opportunity here not only to grow its business, but to grow its reputation and really get the entire Roaring Fork Valley behind its mission.
Below is what I shared with council and the members of Aspen Skiing Co. who were in attendance:
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration on the proposed Aspen SkiCo housing building at Willits. I am not here tonight to ask that you vote yes or no on the project, however I do think there are a few things worth considering ahead of any vote that have not yet been discussed – including corporate responsibility.
Beyond the parking issue at the proposed Willits affordable housing building (which needs to be addressed) I would ask that you consider the following:
Many of you on this council have talked of Basalt being so much more than a “bedroom community” for Aspen, that we have an identity, and a vision for a community independent and free from the company-town mentality. If this is true, how does SkiCo’s sights on Basalt, actually help Basalt? While it helps SkiCo’s bottom line and long-term planning for its own growth, does this housing provide any Basalt benefit?
Beyond housing day care workers who can work anywhere in the valley (and please do not waive our vital day care fee), how does this building address any Basalt affordable housing needs? It appears we are being asked, again, to serve the needs of Aspen SkiCo, to absorb Aspen’s problems. But again, where is the clear benefit to Basalt?
Then there is the impact of both the building and the seasonal workers. Will SkiCo follow through and show us how it battles climate change by signing leases with no car allowance, by providing all of these new seasonal tenants with free bus passes, so that driving their cars up and down 82 is not an option?
Will it sponsor the purchase of an electric RFTA bus to shuttle its employees up and downvalley? Or will SkiCo invest serious dollars into clean air initiatives in the Mid-Valley as a result of those inevitable added emissions?
I don’t think anyone in this community has a problem with affordable housing. But the reality is, SkiCo needs Basalt.
Skico may want to build this in Aspen, but it cannot, as it is experiencing the reality that even it can no longer afford the community which it calls home.
Basalt Town Council holds the keys to setting a precedent on what outside investors coming into Basalt can and should expect. And we expect SkiCo to be a responsible community partner. If it wants to build here, show us how much you love Basalt (and not just its affordable land). Help us lift up those who live here and need it the most.
Speaking of those who need it the most, will SkiCo be donating money to the Basalt Education Foundation and really become investors in this community beyond merely housing its employees?
Has SkiCo made a commitment to training a workforce from the Mid-Valley population that already exists? Has it entered our high school and proposed a training program to educate graduating students to work for it? These kids are in need of jobs, many of them are bilingual, they already have housing, and the kids from Basalt would love a path into the outdoor or hospitality industry. This is what corporate responsibility in the Mid-Valley looks like.
My fear is that this becomes the first in several buildings where SkiCo drops its housing problem in Basalt, adds to the traffic and pollution, and does nothing to support Basalt in return. It has long been partners in the Aspen Education Foundation and other Aspen non-profits. Before approving anything in Willits, I would like to know what it has done and what it plans to do to show its commitment to Basalt. Show us what good corporate citizenship looks like, show us, show the valley, show the world.
This building can and should be a model for the Roaring Fork Valley – from LEED Certification, to transportation, and how those workers who will live there, and the community it will be a part of, is cared for. They should be modeling this for other corporations, and we should be demanding it.
SkiCo is one of the largest employers in our Valley, and this will not be the last time it comes to you with a housing proposal. I implore you to remember, you are in the driver’s seat and I hope you will keep the interests of Mid-Valley families, children and grandchildren at the forefront of your mind and not be distracted by what has been billed as a one-time prize.
It’s time now for SkiCo to really show Basalt that it does indeed Give a Flake.