Basalt board split over growth in and around town
With a potential showdown looming with landowners and developers over the direction of a new master plan, Basalt officials are still wrestling among themselves over how much growth to allow.
Countless meetings and debates over the last two years on the proposed master plan have made it abundantly clear that Basalt won’t turn off the development spigot. Far from it.
An analysis by the town staff shows there are about 800 residences in or around town that are approved but unbuilt. Another 500 to 900 units are anticipated to be approved.
If the master plan guides growth for the next 20 years, the staff concluded, between 65 and 85 residences could be built annually. That’s on par with the development rate that has alarmed many Basalt residents in recent years.
The staff’s analysis shows that Basalt has issued 79 residential building permits annually for the last five years.
“This plan is about growth. I think we all acknowledge that,” said Councilman Steve Solomon in the council’s most recent debate on the master plan.
By welcoming development in what the town designates as its urban growth boundary, Solomon and other town officials hope to channel growth into appropriate places and preserve rural lands.
The board has run into difficulties trying to define where exactly growth is appropriate. For the most part the seven-member council agrees, but heated debate flared this week over the designation of pockets of private land east of town and in the El Jebel area.
Ironically the fiercest battle is being waged over the heart of El Jebel – territory that town officials made clear they will not annex.
Even though it is outside town boundaries, half the council wants to send a message to Eagle County that high-density residential development would be welcomed there – as long as the county provides appropriate services.
“[Development] is going to happen with or without us,” said Solomon. “Why not set a policy that helps shape it.”
Solomon and other board members hope that the Eagle County commissioners can be persuaded to designate high-density growth in El Jebel and prevent development in more rural areas.
Councilman Chris Lane attacked that strategy as a “violation” of Basalt’s principles. It isn’t appropriate for Basalt to endorse urban-style development in unincorporated El Jebel, Lane argued. The development belongs in downtown Basalt, Basalt’s southside neighborhood and Willits before going to El Jebel, he said.
Lane likened Solomon’s El Jebel strategy to “opening up the floodgates and then some.” The Eagle County commissioners could easily approve El Jebel development and then approve it in more rural sections of the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county, as well, Lane said.
He favored fighting growth rather than endorsing it in El Jebel. “I’d like to plant the seed for no growth there,” Lane said.
Solomon vehemently countered that Basalt wasn’t surrendering a principle since there’s already high-density development in El Jebel. Lane’s strategy simply isn’t realistic, he said.
“I think it’s a path that takes us out of the picture completely,” Solomon said.
Debate over the designation of lands on Basalt’s eastern fringe paled by comparison.
Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens expressed support for including property owned by the Kittle family and a large acreage owned by Guido Meyer east of Elk Run into the urban growth boundary. Both families have been longtime “stakeholders” in the community, Stevens said, suggesting that entitles them to greater opportunities.
Designation in the town’s urban growth boundary and annexation could allow higher-density development for Meyer because his property is now in unincorporated Pitkin County.
The Kittle property, next to the Roaring Fork Golf Club, is already within the town but fully developed under current zoning.
Solomon countered Stevens by noting that a portion of Meyer’s land is already designated for annexation and high-density development.
“We’re giving them a 200 percent upzoning without asking them to downzone the rest of the property and they’re not happy?” Solomon asked.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt warned the board against making decisions based on the amount of heat they take.
“We get squeezed, we pop. We always do,” she said.
Whitsitt’s theory is likely to be tested Monday night. The council and planning commission will hold a joint meeting to provide the public with its first chance to comment on the meat of the proposed master plan.
Staffers have prepared the council to expect protests from the Meyer and Kittle families. At least three developers or land-use planners have also showed signs of chomping at the bit to speak.
The meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Basalt High School.
Major questions such as how much growth to allow have to be answered this month. Basalt hopes to adopt its new master plan Aug. 31.
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