Basalt eyes new way to plan downtown
Ryan Summerlin January 23, 2014
Basalt residents are being asked to put aside stodgy planning and zoning rules, embrace partnerships with developers and think like sixth-graders while envisioning what they want their downtown to look like.
In short, Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon asked 30 members of the Town Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission and residents Tuesday night to throw out old ways of looking at development and open their minds to a new approach. He wants residents to concentrate on the end result without worrying how to get there.
The town is sponsoring a variety of meetings to try to get residents stoked about planning the downtown. There will be small neighborhood meetings and broader forums open to the public. Business groups and school-age kids will be engaged.
Town officials see a potential golden opportunity for a planning effort that would include the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, Lions Park and Town Hall, the Phillips 66 gas station and the Clark’s Market building.
“Nobody wants to see it become a Vail. We want to keep the charm.”
Norm Clasen, Basalt resident
The key to coming up with an achievable plan, Scanlon said, is to get widespread community involvement.
“If you want it to stick and to last, it’s the community” work that is important, he said. That way, turnover among the Town Council, Planning Commission and town staff doesn’t matter.
“The momentum carries the town,” he said.
Prior Basalt councils have been sticklers for regulations. They drew up urban growth boundaries, affordable-housing requirements, a priority scoring system and a land-use master plan that dictated what type of development could go where.
Scanlon said the new planning effort should ignore issues such as building heights and setbacks. The town government must consider teaming with one or more developers on amenities like a parking garage. Everybody involved in the planning must be prepared to give up some things in order to gain some things, Scanlon said.
Ultimately, the plan will seek consensus on what will be built on public spaces and private places in and around downtown, according to Scanlon. The goal is to bring some vibrancy to the downtown core. There currently are several vacant commercial spaces.
“There’s the really messy problem that’s known as the downtown problem,” Scanlon said.
It’s actually a combination of problems — lack of adequate parking, rents and overshadowing by Whole Foods Market and other businesses in Willits Town Center, he said.
He hopes the community can solve the disconnection between downtown and Willits.
“They keep tugging in opposite directions,” he said. “How do we get them tugging in the same direction?”
The audience welcomed the launch of the planning process. Norm Clasen, owner of a downtown building, said he was encouraged by the town’s change of attitude, but he also cautioned that planning efforts have gone on for years.
“I don’t think we can go four or five more years without doing something,” Clasen said.
He quickly clarified that he wasn’t advocating mass development.
“Nobody wants to see it become a Vail,” Clasen said. “We want to keep the charm.”
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said on Wednesday that she feels the new approach outlined by Scanlon could be more productive for Basalt. Developers will know exactly what the town wants and if their vision matches the town’s vision.
“It’s a far cry from developers and applicants proposing everything,” she said.