Basalt approves Whole Foods | AspenTimes.com

Basalt approves Whole Foods

BASALT ” The Basalt Town Council voted unanimously last night to grant the approvals needed for the Willits Town Center developers to build a 44,000-square-foot store for Whole Foods Market.

“Deep down, I think this is probably going to be a big benefit for the town,” said Councilman Mark Kittle.

The developer, Chicago-based Joseph Freed and Associates, made a wise strategic move earlier this fall in separating the application for Whole Foods from a request for additional residences in the dense core of Willits. The attempt to add residences was controversial; the supermarket received substantial support.

Tim Belinski, vice president of development for Joseph Freed and Associates, presented the town with a letter of support for the supermarket that was signed by 521 residents of the Roaring Fork Valley, including 200 from Basalt.

“We’re pretty blown away by the reception we had with this,” Belinski said.

About 50 people showed up for the hearing at Basalt Town Hall last night, and the majority of speakers at a public hearing favored approval of Whole Foods.

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Willits resident Garret Brandt said the supermarket, which specializes in natural and organic foods, will be a magnet for people who are driving through Basalt on the way to their downvalley homes. People will spend their money in the town ” boosting public coffers through sales taxes ” without increasing the demand for services, he said. The grocery chain also will provide good jobs, he said.

Jacque Whitsitt, one of the few critics of the proposal who spoke at the meeting, said a store that size will lead to the deterioration of Basalt’s small-town character.

Joseph Freed and Associates needed to tweak approvals granted to the original project developers, headed by Michael Lipkin, to accommodate Whole Foods.

Lipkin’s approval didn’t allow a footprint of any one space larger than 27,500 square feet or floor area larger than 40,000 square feet for any building. Whole Foods needs a 44,000-square-foot space. However, the addition for Whole Foods wouldn’t have affected the overall size of the project.

Size didn’t matter to the council.

Councilman Chris Seldin said he wants to see development “pay its way.” He believes the Willits Town Center developers are doing that. The developers agreed to a 1 percent real estate transfer assessment on top of a 1 percent assessment that already exists. Revenues from the new assessment will speed hundreds of thousands of dollars of transit improvements, including a roundabout at Willits Lane and East Valley Road ” an intersection that is already busy from traffic toward the City Market complex. Other funds will provide improvements on Highway 82 and East Valley Road as well as construct a transit center in Willits.

The developers also earned accolades for volunteering to add four affordable housing units to their obligations. Two of the new units will be sold to the town of Basalt at below market costs; the other two will be sold to the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District.

Construction on the Whole Foods site will begin this winter. The developers must turn the building shell over to the chain by June 2009. The store will open late that year or in 2010.

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