Basalt mayor fears town will kill housing project
September 10, 2008
BASALT ” The mayor of Basalt fears that what he says is a much-needed affordable housing project won’t get built because the Town Council is piling so many regulations onto the developer.
Mayor Leroy Duroux chided other council members during Tuesday night’s review of a project called Stott’s Mill.
“It seems to me it’s risky that this project is going to get built,” Duroux said after council members expressed a desire to see significant refinements in the proposal.
He is often at odds with the rest of the board on land-use matters.
MSP Development Group is proposing to build 110 residences, a 3,000-square-foot daycare center and 4 1/2 acres of parks on a site near Basalt High School. All the housing would be geared toward local residents: 23 units would have deed restrictions that establish a sales or rental price for low-income buyers or renters; the remaining units would be sold to full-time Basalt residents. Of that resident-occupied housing, 15 units would have restrictions on price appreciation. The balance would have no appreciation caps.
Sixty-three of the residences would be single-family homes, and the remainder would be multi-family units or duplexes. Briston Peterson of the MSP Development Group said the intent is to rent some of the multi-family units to address a neglected need in the valley.
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The size of most of the 63 single family homes would be restricted by small-sized lots. The homes on larger lots could be up to 4,000 square feet.
The project received the first of three approvals it needs in May 2007, but three council members said Tuesday night they want refinements in the plan.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said the council heard from a consultant recently that larger homes tend to create problems and issues the community wants to avoid ” such as vacant second homes and speculative building. She indicated she wants a house-size cap smaller than 4,000 square feet when Basalt refines its growth management regulations this winter.
Peterson noted that the 4,000-square-foot homes in his plan were included because town officials encouraged “diversity” in the mix of residences.
“That’s beyond my diversity tolerance,” Whitsitt replied, noting she was elected and took office after Stott’s Mill earned its first-round approval. She said she wouldn’t approve 4,000 square foot homes at Stott’s Mill.
Councilman Chris Seldin said he supports the project and wants to see it built ” but with additional affordable housing. The developers deserve credit for the resident-occupied housing, Seldin said, but he wants the number of deed-restricted units increased.
Stott’s Mill requires annexation into the town. The property is currently in unincorporated Pitkin County, where the density envisioned by the developers wouldn’t be allowed.
Seldin noted that Basalt’s new annexation policy requires that 30 percent of residences must be affordable housing in projects annexed into the town. That policy was set after Stott’s Mill received its first-round approval, but the town can legally apply the threshold to the project. The town has a lot of leverage when considering annexations.
Councilman Gary Tennenbaum agreed with Seldin’s direction and said he specifically wants to see more of the deed-restricted units for lower-income buyers.
Council members noted that proposed refinements to the town’s affordable housing code could make it easier for projects like Stott’s Mill to subsidize affordable housing.
The town plans to adjust the sale prices of affordable housing units to reflect increases in average median incomes in the area. That means developers can sell or rent units for higher amounts, lowering the subsidy.
Duroux expressed concern that the town was shifting the rules too much on Peterson and his partners. He said the council needs to use some “common sense” when reviewing the project. Stott’s Mill doesn’t include any free-market housing ” units completely free of restrictions, Duroux said. That removes elements that developers typically rely on for their profit. That limits their ability to provide deed-restricted units.
Duroux said the 110 units at Stott’s Mill are desperately needed in the town. The average single-family home sale price is inching toward $1 million.
“There is a significant gap between average income and housing cost in the Basalt area. Most Basalt workers cannot afford Basalt housing,” says the town’s 1997 master plan update.
Other council members didn’t respond to Duroux’s comments. Peterson avoided the debate.
The council didn’t take formal action on the Stott’s Mill project Tuesday but said they will continue the review this fall.