Kane, Leavitt stress their slow-growth pitches in Basalt mayoral race
MEET THE MAYORS
For biographical information and the priorities of the three mayoral candidates in Basalt, go to https://www.aspentimes.com/news/local/meet-basalts-three-mayoral-candidates/.
Basalt mayoral candidate Rob Leavitt has repeatedly hammered home the point during this campaign that he wants to put the brakes on development before it ruins the town’s character.
But Bill Kane, another candidate, isn’t ready to surrender the slow-growth mantle without a fight. Kane took multiple opportunities while answering questions at a candidates’ forum Monday night to show voters he supports limited growth.
The third candidate in the race, Bill Infante, has carved out a pro-business development stance during the campaign. He is quick to stress he wants to see development that is “responsible and sustainable.”
Leavitt minced no words on his view on growth.
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“I’m running on a slow-growth platform because that’s the message I’ve been hearing from the community,” Leavitt said at the forum. “I also think that’s a message we can send to our surrounding communities. We can speak with a loud voice and let Eagle County know that we can’t grow the way they can on that end of Glenwood Canyon. We don’t have I-70 moving cars the way they do. We need to be more strategic and a little more thoughtful about our growth over here. So we can use this election to send a really strong message.”
Kane seized that theme a minute later.
“I sympathize with Rob’s views relative to growth and development. It’s a concern for everyone,” he said. “I think it’s important to understand that Basalt has defensed itself on three sides. On the Light Hill and downvalley piece, we have secured open space on the Saltonstall and Glassier ranches, Billy Grange (ranch), everything out on the high school, the Reno Cerise property. There is virtually no potential for development on those lands. They have been completely sterilized with conservation easements.
“The upvalley is Pitkin County, very stringent land-use regulations that would control any development,” Kane continued. “The other side is federal lands. Our biggest weak link is the Highway 82 corridor. We have to strengthen our ties to Eagle County. We need to meet more frequently and make sure the Eagle County commissioners are aware of the values of the folks in this valley.”
The candidates were never directly asked at the forum at Basalt Library to state their views on growth and development. Their answers came out in response to various questions in the forum sponsored by Basalt Chamber Resort Association and Roaring Fork Weekly Journal.
Leavitt recounted that he decided to run for mayor while performing duties as a member of the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission. He said the process of updating the town’s master plan gave town citizens a chance to pick between high-density in the core or urban sprawl. He thinks that is a false choice.
“How about small, tasteful development,” Leavitt said.
Kane stressed the need to redevelop the Basalt Center Circle properties, anchored by a large, vacant building that once housed Clark’s Market and before that, until the early 1990s, City Market.
“We have a wonderful opportunity to improve our urban centers, create greater vitality and do it in a way that doesn’t create unwanted or negative growth,” Kane said. “We can fix up the downtown. We can improve the urban spaces in Willits without generating significant, new, negative growth impacts.”
When asked about affordable housing, Infante stressed the need to pursue responsible and sustainable development “and in a manner that adheres to sound and contemporary best urban practice. So that means developing the core and not developing the periphery. It means having development that is transit-oriented and hopefully net zero and energy efficient.”
The candidates also revealed their philosophies when asked if they would represent the will of the people of Basalt even if it were contrary to their personal views.
Kane said he changed his personal opinion about the proper level of development on the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site based on community discussion over a period of nearly 8½ years.
“Initially, I was a proponent for building on the corner of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue,” Kane said. “I thought that was a great opportunity for a major hotel building and something that would create a great urban statement for Basalt. I came to learn that people hated that idea. I think people wanted to preserve their view and access to the river. Over the years I’ve come to respect that opinion.”
The real estate on that prime corner will be purchased by the town for expansion of a riverside park rather than developed.
Leavitt said the reality in Basalt is that the citizenry is close to evenly split on some major issues, as it was on Pan and Fork development-open space.
“You’re not going to get your way all the time,” he said, stressing that he would honor the public’s view.
Infante said the mayor and council must do their best to represent their constituents. Not every issue should go to a referendum, but those that do should be honored, he said.
He built off that idea during his closing statement in the forum when he criticized the leadership of current Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, not by name but by inference. Whitsitt won election for mayor in 2016 and 2012 on a slow-growth platform. She cannot run again because of term limits.
Infante said he has heard while out campaigning that people are ready for a change.
“What I hear pretty consistently is people want something different,” he said. “Trust in our town’s leadership has been shaken by decisions that overrode the will of the people.”
He later added, “The past decade really hasn’t been a golden age of unity of community cohesion, but the last two years do give me hope. I’m conscious of our past and I believe the way we unify our town and rebuilt trust is to advance a vision that defines a common purpose and a shared identity that we can all rally around.”
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Basalt’s municipal election on Tuesday brought fresh blood to the town council. Four newcomers to elected office will be sworn in April 28.