After building freeze, will Basalt face a flood? | AspenTimes.com
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After building freeze, will Basalt face a flood?

After nearly two years of a moratorium on major development applications, Basalt has less than seven weeks before it learns how the market will react.

The town government cannot legally extend its moratorium past Aug. 22, 1999 – two years after its initial approval.

The moratorium – officially known in government jargon as an interim development control – was approved for one year in August 1997 to give the town time to work on an updated master plan. That blueprint and accompanying ordinances are designed to guide Basalt’s growth for the next five to seven years.

Despite diligent work by the town staff, a consultant, the planning commission and council, the work on the master plan has dragged on. The Town Council extended the moratorium for six months last July, then tacked on another six months last winter.

Now, as the expiration date looms, the boards are putting final touches on the plan. The planning commission has scheduled a public hearing, although not necessarily the final one, tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Basalt Town Hall. Will floodgates open? The question on many minds is whether Basalt will face a flood of new applications once the moratorium is finally lifted.

“I don’t think the day it’s gone we’ll be suddenly slammed,” said Basalt Town Councilman Steve Solomon.

However, at least four major projects are known to be on the drawing board.

Town officials anticipate receiving a redevelopment plan for the Riverwalk project on the northeast end of Midland Avenue.

Snowmass Village-based real estate development partners Jim Light and Jim Chaffin have acquired an option on the lagoon property west of town, where Taqueria el Nopal and a variety of other businesses are located. They are studying its development potential.

Developer Bob Gilman is contemplating a residential and light industrial project between Basalt and Emma on the north side of Highway 82.

Dick Downey is negotiating with potential investors for redevelopment of the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park, located on land that is evolving into downtown Basalt. Won’t be bowled over Solomon said developers will soon learn they must meet tougher criteria in Basalt, thanks to the master plan and accompanying ordinances. The “front door” to Town Hall is no longer wide open, he said.

He’s speaking both figuratively and literally. Town Manager Tom Baker recently put a lock on the staff door that requires knowledge of a combination. The public must now use the front door.

Before the new lock, virtually anyone, including developers, could march in the door that led to staff offices.

“I don’t think the development community realizes what it’s going to take to get through the front door,” said Solomon. “It’s not going to be a free-for-all like it was.

“I don’t have a great sense we’re going to become bowling pins,” he added. `Aspenization’ for Basalt Developers have predicted that real estate prices would shoot up, just like Aspen’s, ever since the Basalt Town Council approved the moratorium and it became apparent that regulations would get tougher.

Data from the Aspen Board of Realtors shows Basalt real estate prices have climbed significantly for the first quarter of 1999 compared to the same period in 1998.

But there’s no way to know if the moratorium is responsible. Prices were on the rise well before the town put the moratorium in place, as Solomon noted.

A report in Mason and Morse Real Estate’s Sourcebook shows that the median price of homes sold in Basalt increased from $335,500 to $392,000 during the first quarter of this year compared to the first quarter of 1998. That’s an increase of nearly 17 percent.

The median price of a lot jumped 38 percent to $128,000.

While the moratorium was in place during both first quarters, it probably hadn’t had time to affect the first months of 1998.

The number of homes sold in the first quarter of 1999 was up, while the number of lots sold was down.

Supply hasn’t dried up

Digging deeper into the sea of real estate statistics makes the moratorium appear irrelevant. Earlier reports by Mason and Morse show that real estate sales activity in Basalt actually picked up after the moratorium went into effect.

The number of homes sold and their median price jumped significantly from November 1997 to May 1998, compared to the same period a year before.

And the number of lots sold skyrocketed from seven in the winter and spring of 1996-97 to 36 for the winter and spring of 1997-98.

Two big projects, Willits and Southside, came on line just as the moratorium was approved, so supply hasn’t appeared depleted by the two-year freeze on new projects.

But nothing has advanced through the pipeline for two years and projects that attempt to go through the pipeline will now face a tougher squeeze.


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