Basalt board willing to `buck market’ with plan
The Basalt Town Council has decided it will “buck the market” and face whatever political consequences result from aggressive land-use control measures in a new town “master plan.”
The council took a big step Thursday toward advancing a plan that will play a major role in determining how the town will grow during the next five to seven years.
The board reviewed, and for the most part endorsed, a draft plan that the town planning commission spent countless hours piecing together over the last several months.
That plan – which should be finished by August – recommends what type of development should be allowed on vacant property within Basalt. It even identifies how much the town should expand its boundaries.
Council members were also willing to answer some tough questions Thursday that will influence the direction of the plan.
“I think you have to ask yourself this question – how much to you want to buck the market?” said planning consultant Tim Malloy of Rock Creek Studio in Carbondale.
The answer, apparently, is quite a bit.
For instance, the proposed plan suggested designating land on the town’s southern boundary for low-density development – as low as one house per two-acre lot. Councilman Steve Solomon asked why the town would invite the addition of a “second-home enclave.” Developers don’t need help Malloy responded that he and the planning commission felt it should provide zoning for a diverse mix of housing opportunities – including high-end homes. If land isn’t designated for that type of use, developers will be complaining on the doorstep of Town Hall, he predicted.
“I don’t think it’s our responsibility as a town board to provide developers with new opportunities,” said Solomon.
Councilwoman Tracy Bennett was just as adamant against designating property for low-density development on the edge of town. Basalt is already experiencing increased levels of second-home ownership, which she said “diminishes the sense of community.”
Instead, she supports higher-density development within the town’s boundaries.
Councilman Chris Lane agreed, saying, “the last thing we need to worry about” is taking care of the high end.
Councilwoman Anne Freedman predicted low-density development on the outskirts of town wouldn’t pay for itself. The town would spend more providing services than it would collect in taxes, she claimed.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said she tended to agree that the low-density designation could be eliminated, but she wanted to review more of the plan before moving in a definitive direction. Don’t penalize stewards Councilman Leroy Duroux was the only board member to raise a red flag. He said ranchers on the edge of town have “suffered” considerably from development of neighboring land. They’ve been good stewards of their land and shouldn’t be penalized now by the master plan, he said.
Other council members acknowledged that was a good point. Town Manager Tom Baker suggested the town could find a way to use transferable development rights to benefit ranchers. He said he wants to see “how these people can benefit without sacrificing their lifestyle.”
Duroux also warned against getting too aggressive in growth control, or risk hyper-inflation in the Basalt real estate market. He said suggestions that place limits on the issuance of building permits are “absurd.” That would drive land prices to Aspen levels and lead to nothing but second homes, he said.
“We’ll have a sterile community, I guarantee you that,” Duroux said. The shape of the plan The board deferred discussions on specific ways to implement the master plan until later, but the general direction of the plan is taking shape. Malloy said the blueprint doesn’t contemplate major annexations by Basalt for the next five to seven years.
He noted that the town has grown significantly in population and land size through the 1990s. Two major annexations in the last six years essentially doubled the town’s land mass, he said.
One annexation added the City Market property in the El Jebel area far to the northwest of downtown. The other added the Roaring Fork Club land south of town. Both those major additions are disconnected from the town core.
Malloy said the master plan favors infill development in the town core. That development tends to be of medium and high density. Medium density was considered six to 12 units per acre. High density was 12 to 24 units per acre.
Other prime goals of the plan are to encourage pedestrian-oriented development close to the core and to integrate the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers more fully into the town, said Malloy.
The public will have plenty of opportunities to comment on the plan before anything is finalized. An open house is being contemplated for later in June. Both the planning commission and Town Council will hold further hearings in July.
Meanwhile, the town has a moratorium in place on most major development applications to provide time to finish the plan. That moratorium is set to expire in August and cannot be extended further.
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