Craftsman: If you build it, they will stay | AspenTimes.com

Craftsman: If you build it, they will stay

Steve Crowley, right, and Greg Fitzpatrick work on a handcrafted entry gate in the workshop of Aspen Cabinet and Millwork at the Basalt Trade Center. Crowley contends annexing his project into the town of Basalt will threaten it. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

Steve Crowley remembers the days when dust devils whirled down the streets of Basalt, unsavory characters lurked in dark alleys and a boardwalk served the main street.”Then I blinked and it’s Carmel,” he said, referring to the upscale Southern California town. He called the changes that have swept through Basalt over the past 25 years “unbelievable.”Crowley, a cabinet maker, wants to preserve one of the best characteristics of the old town, where he moved his shop in 1981. He wants to develop a project that would provide craftsmen like himself and other small business operators a chance to own their work space in the midvalley.Small affordable workshops are disappearing in the midvalley, forcing craftsmen and light industry farther and farther downvalley.His Willits Bend project in the Basalt Trade Center would total 98,500 square feet. The vast majority of the development would be work space and associated office space. It would be built in 1,000-square-foot sections so they could be combined to meet a business’ needs. A small amount of residential development would be undertaken for craftsmen who want to live close to where they work.

Crowley and his Blue Crow LLC are paying more than lip service to the idea of keeping work space affordable. Disincentives such as real estate transfer assessments and price restrictions are being explored to discourage speculators from buying spaces, then immediately jacking up prices and selling them.The fate of Crowley’s project is a little cloudy. Although his five acres of land is in unincorporated Eagle County, it is adjacent to a larger business center located entirely in Basalt. Eagle County government is reviewing Crowley’s project, but Basalt is pushing hard to annex the project into the town.Town officials said it makes more sense to have Willits Bend part of the town from a land-use planning perspective. They would also like the tax revenues it generates.Crowley’s attorney, David Myler, said Basalt is pushing the annexation too hard. He claimed that a Basalt town staff memo to Eagle County seemed to say the project will be opposed if Crowley doesn’t go along with annexation.

“If you guys want annexation, why don’t you ask Mr. Crowley?” said Myler at a recent meeting of the Basalt planning commission. “Don’t come at us with this coercive approach.”Myler and Crowley both said that seeking annexation into Basalt before the project is approved could threaten the effort to keep sales prices for the work spaces affordable.Myler claimed that applying town land-use regulations would increase development mitigation fees by 50 percent over what Eagle County would require, as well as decrease the project’s density by 33 percent. The project would no longer be economically feasible, he said.Unless Basalt is willing to negotiate and relax its regulations, Crowley isn’t interested in talking to the town about annexation.”It’s not that we didn’t want to be part of Basalt – it didn’t make sense for us to be part of Basalt,” Myler said.

Town officials realized Crowley has leverage on the issue. Members of the planning commission, along with Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux and town manager Bill Efting, urged Crowley to meet with them again before going through the Eagle County review. The town officials expressed hope that an agreement could be worked out for annexation.The Town Council and planning commission are holding a joint meeting to hear Crowley’s plan on Nov. 29 at Town Hall.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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