Basalt candidates on Willits Town Center development | AspenTimes.com
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Basalt candidates on Willits Town Center development

Aspen, CO Colorado

Editor’s note: This is the third day of coverage of the Basalt Town Council race. Six candidates are vying for three seats.

Today’s question is: Would you allow the Willits Town Center developers to defer or even eliminate some public amenities, like a pedestrian underpass beneath Highway 82, to speed construction of a Whole Foods Market?

The town election is Tuesday, April 6, although some Basalt residents have already received mail-in ballots. The polling place at Town Hall is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mail ballots must be received by Town Hall – whether mailed or dropped off in person – by 7 p.m. election night.

I see the immediate construction of the Whole Foods Market in the Willits Town Center as a benefit to not only the Willits community, but also the town of Basalt and the entire midvalley. The market would likely generate more than 100 jobs and would certainly generate much needed sales tax revenue. Yet, I, too, hold the construction of public amenities as a high priority. Without knowing what could potentially be eliminated and without having seen an application for such, I will need to weigh the benefits of both sides very carefully – when the time comes.

Eliminating any previously agreed-upon public amenities would probably not be a wise choice. Looking hard at the timing of public amenities and their effect on community safety and welfare would be smart. We have already approved the Whole Foods Market. We should do what we can to help move it along.

The public amenities that are intended to provide better access to the development for existing residents, such as improving the Willits Lane Pedestrian connection between the Willits Town Center, Sopris Village and Orchard Plaza, should be constructed in conjunction with the Whole Foods construction.

The pedestrian underpass is an amenity linked to the build out of the transit center at Willits, which has yet to be constructed. As I understand it, the Willits developer has committed to loaning the town funds to complete a pedestrian underpass. The town will then reimburse the developer with tax revenue from sales at Willits. It may be possible to “slide” the construction timing back somewhat on the underpass in order to allow the market to get up and running.

Whole Foods will be a great amenity. I can’t image a scenario where I’d defer or eliminate amenities that are in a previous agreement. I don’t think Tim Belinski/Joseph Freed will play games with the town like was done in the past so I am open to helping them in any way that does not diminish the town’s position.

That’s an easy one – no. You’ve got to hold all developers to the same standards and hold them to all the conditions of their approvals. To do otherwise would set an untenable precedent, and create a lack of clarity for future applicants, staff and council.

That being said, having gone through the building and approval process with our office (Harry Teague Architects) in Basalt, it’s apparent to me that some of the public “amenities” required of developers don’t always make sense or are of dubious value to the public. I would therefore want to be open during the approval process to an applicant’s ideas for improving upon or creatively addressing those requirements. In other words, let’s aim for having a project be as good as it can be, for everyone’s sake, then let’s make sure the developer follows through.

What amenities besides an underpass? I cannot answer this question in a vacuum.

In the first place, I do not believe in allowing developers to defer the installation of their public amenities. The very first thing that should be built is the public amenities that they agree to as part of their application, so the underpass, for example, would theoretically already be there.

But as it is obviously not there, I would defer my judgment on this issue until it is clear what will be happening with the Tree Farm property across the highway. If that development does not go forward then will there be a need for an underpass in the first place? Conversely, if that development does go forward, why should it be incumbent upon the developers of Willits to foot the bill for the underpass – shouldn’t the Tree Farm developers pay their share as well?

Under the current agreement the Willits developers are required to contribute to the underpass, but not to build it on their own. They also have to aid in constructing a traffic circle and making other road improvements. The town cannot afford any of this on its own, but these improvements must be made or there will be no bus service to Willits and there will be impossible traffic jams that will keep customers from Whole Foods and the other stores in Willits. The town should allow the developers to defer, but not eliminate, any other improvements that are not needed for the survival of commerce in Willits.

It should also be noted that the developers have had an approval in place for nearly two years. The project has not gone ahead because the developer has not been able to obtain financing for building the Whole Foods shell.


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