Basalt mayoral candidates address affordable housing
Editor’s note: The Aspen Times will run Q&A’s for the next several days with the candidates in Basalt’s April 7 election. Ballots were set to be mailed to voters today. There will be three days of Q&A with the mayor candidates followed by three days with the six candidates for three council seats.
Aspen Times: To add affordable housing to the inventory, should the town government grant density increases for development projects, seek a property tax increase dedicated to housing or use some other tool? Please be specific.
Bill Infante: Basalt needs policies, laws and regulations that incentivize the private sector to add affordable housing. Policies promoting diversity, transit access and energy efficiency are key. Laws and regs need revision to upzone promoting core density, and rezone permitting accessory dwelling units. Increasing property taxes on existing homeowners is a “Band-Aid” solution that is inequitable and bad economics. My hunch: A tax increase would also be hugely unpopular, and unlikely to be approved by voters as required under TABOR. A much better idea is partnering with county, special districts and the private sector, which has no tax impact whatsoever, but yields a long-term housing solution. The best example is the Basalt Vista project. Pitkin County provided infrastructure and utility connections. Roaring Fork Schools (RE1) pledged land. Basalt amended the urban growth boundary, waived impact fees, and contributed $30,000 making the project net zero and delivering on an important energy objective. And, Habitat for Humanity provided cash and know-how. Soon, 27 deed-restricted homes will be completed, and 20 teachers and 27 police, firefighters and county staff will take up residence contributing powerfully to our town’s vitality. This is good policy, good thinking and the type of solution that Basalt needs.
Bill Kane: I believe that we can create more affordable housing by harnessing the development and real estate industry without additional taxation. Density bonuses have been tried and have proved effective in Aspen and elsewhere. We can achieve incremental addition to our housing stock by building small- to medium-sized projects; we don’t need massive complexes. The Basalt Vista project at the high school is a great example of good sustainable design favorably priced and in a great location, which minimizes vehicle miles traveled. We should work hard to collaborate with Habitat and Eagle and Pitkin counties to create housing that is appropriate for our community. We can also do more with grants and work with the Colorado Division of housing. As mayor I would also investigate the potential for adding a full or part-time housing officer for the town to pursue these options.
Rob Leavitt: I strongly support providing attainable housing for essential employees of Basalt. As a member of Basalt Town Council, Planning and Zoning Commission, and the only candidate with children in Basalt schools, I have lobbied for housing for teachers, police, firefighters and essential town employees. Basalt Vista is a prime example of how the town can cooperate with outside organizations like Habitat for Humanity to provide affordable housing. I will not, however, support raising taxes to build housing for employees of Aspen shops and restaurants. I do not see why Basalt residents should subsidize housing for up valley employers who don’t want to pay a living wage. P&Z has been working on a new master plan for the past year and it encourages a variety of housing at multiple price points. While I will never support massive housing developments, there are select projects where increased densities make sense. Housing near mass transit and close to downtown are places where the town can use zoning powers and incentives to allow additional units. One of the great components of the new master plan is the list of incentives, like sustainability, child care, car and bike sharing, and public trails that would be required to increase those densities.
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Ballots will be counted Tuesday evening for the city of Aspen municipal election.