Affordable housing will get extra scrutiny at downtown Basalt project
Planning commission takes first look at redevelopment of Clark’s Market building
Affordable housing and a “wow” factor — or lack thereof — emerged Tuesday night as two big issues for the proposed redevelopment of the old Clark’s Market site in downtown Basalt.
The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission took its first look at the proposal from veteran local developers Tim Belinski and Andrew Light. They want to tear down the existing 24,500-square-foot building and replace it with a 9,157-square-foot boutique grocery store on the ground floor and 70 apartments on the upper floors.
The developers touted the plan as one that would add to downtown’s vitality by producing a full-time population of residents in the studio, one- and two-bedroom rental units.
Belinski said the grocery store would be the epicenter of the west side of the development, which faces Midland Avenue, the town’s main street. The store would provide grab-and-go food and beverages and have outdoor seating that would make it similar to the Paradise Bakery corner in Aspen, a place where people want to linger.
“That’s where I think the heartbeat is going to be for downtown,” Belinski said.
The plan includes 11 affordable housing units. The developers want to take advantage of an option available in the town’s land use code to reduce affordable housing to 15 percent of the residential square footage and units rather than 25 percent by agreeing to a 1.5 percent real estate transfer assessment. The revenues from the assessment would go to the town’s affordable housing fund.
If the developers provided 25 percent affordable housing, it would be 18 units.
“That’s very crucial to this discussion,” planning commission member and former councilman Bernie Grauer said. “What should be the glaring neon sign is how much affordable housing stock are we going to add downtown.”
Grauer noted that the top project supported by the public when Basalt updated its master plan in 2020 was “build a significant affordable housing project.”
Given that direction from the public, he said he couldn’t support reducing the number of affordable housing units from 25 percent to 15 percent. He and others also wanted more analysis from the town staff on how a real estate transfer assessment would apply to rental apartment units, as the development team proposed.
Planning commissioner Gino Rossetti offered a different perspective. He said the discussion shouldn’t be on the number of affordable housing versus free market units, but what will help get young people into Basalt. The small-sized units will be attractive for young professionals and other folks, he said.
The grocery store proposal also dominated discussion. The town planning staff is working with the development team on conditions that would require 70 percent of the space to be dedicated to traditional retail grocery items and 30 percent to items such as a pharmacy and liquor store.
Grauer railed at putting conditions down on paper that couldn’t be enforced and might not have relevance to market forces. He said the town should hire an outside expert to help determine if a grocery store is viable.
Planning commissioner Cindy Hirschfeld suggested the developer might want to go a different direction.
“I question if that’s the highest and best use we can make of that space,” she said.
Hirschfeld noted the town already has Skip’s Market downtown, referring to a small grocer that sells locally-grown and produced products. Skip’s plans to expand. She said something like a “food haul” that provides food to go from local chefs and restaurants might be more enticing and generate more excitement.
“I feel this is the last chance to do something outside of the box for Basalt,” Hirschfeld said.
Despite the lively discussion on those two topics, the project was generally well received by the planning commission members. No vote was taken.
The meeting was continued until July 6, although the planning staff members said more time might be required to provide the analysis requested by planning commission members.
The planning commission will forward a recommendation to the Basalt Town Council.
Sofía Rocha, a composition student at the Aspen Music Festival and School, earned the 2022 Hermitage Prize in Composition this past weekend at the Hermitage Artist Retreat in Florida.
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