Basalt candidates stake their turf at election forum
BASALT – The recession has snuffed growth in Basalt but a question about a midvalley development proposal provided one of the few glimpses at differences among Basalt Town Council candidates at a forum Thursday night.
Candidates Anne Freedman and Jim Paussa said they oppose Ace Lane’s Tree Farm project in El Jebel, while candidates Patrick Maley and Glenn Rappaport gave conditional support.Candidates Mary Holley and Karin Teague were not able to attend the forum because of prior commitments with their families for trips during spring break.
Lane wants to build 319 residences and 96,000 square feet of commercial space on land surrounding his water ski lake in El Jebel. The site is across Highway 82 from the Willits General Store, just beyond Basalt’s town boundary. The Eagle County commissioners voted 2-1 last year to grant the first of three necessary approvals, called sketch plan review. The Basalt government lobbied the county to reject the request and force Lane to submit an application to the town.
Freedman said she attended several county meetings to speak against Lane’s proposal. She said the project is too big, generates too much traffic and doesn’t provide enough affordable housing.
Freedman said she believes it is appropriate for the town government to work to defeat the project because it will have such a drastic impact on Basalt. She said it was a mistake for Basalt to place the Lane property within its “urban growth boundary,” or area deemed suitable for growth. She suggested that decision should be revisited.
Paussa said the issue isn’t so much whether a person is “wildly for or against” the project. The real issue, he said, is that the county cannot mitigate the impacts of an urban-style development in an unincorporated area. Basalt will be forced to tackle the Tree Farm’s growth impacts, so the town government should play a key role in the review, he said.
“For me, the key word on development is appropriateness,” Paussa said. Like Freedman, he played an active role in opposing the project during the first round of Eagle County review.
Maley didn’t take a stand on the project during the forum, but afterward he said he was “not against” the Tree Farm. But he said he doesn’t see an urgency in getting the project approved.
Maley said the town obviously anticipated playing a role in the review since it placed the site within its urban growth boundary.
Rappaport said a lot of questions need to be answered by the developer before additional approvals should be granted, such as a market analysis to determine need. If it can satisfactorily answer those questions, he believes the Tree Farm is “absolutely” in the right place for a development of that size. His position is different from giving “whole-hearted support,” he said.
Rappaport attended Tree Farm hearings last year and spoke in favor of the project, chiding Basalt officials at one meeting for their opposition. Last night, he said it was clear the application exceeded the criteria it needed for the first round of Eagle County review. The county commissioners had little choice but to allow the project to advance to the second, more detailed stage of review, he said. Basalt needed to “honor” the county process, he said.
The six candidates are running for three open council seats. Incumbents Amy Capron, Chris Seldin and Gary Tennenbaum aren’t seeking re-election. The election is April 6, though some Basalt voters are eligible to vote sooner by mail-in ballot.
The Basalt Chamber of Commerce hosted the candidates’ forum at the library. It was attended by about 30 people, many of them involved with Basalt town government. GrassRoots TV will show the forum on cable channel 12 between Saturday and election day.
The four attending candidates stressed their love for Basalt and desire to preserve its small-town character. All of them mentioned at one time or another that the Basalt Sunday Market during summers and the Willits Indoor Market during winters were laudable steps that should be emulated somehow because they draw people together, create vibrancy and spur traffic for surrounding businesses.
Paussa, 54, is single and a photographer. He opened the forum by stating that livability and sustainability of Basalt as a healthy community is his goal.
“Now that we’ve created something great, it should be sustainable,” he said.
The council’s prime function is to facilitate issues and actions, and collaborate with residents, but also “get out of the way” as much as possible to let residents take the helm.
“I’m not going to be the guy that tells everyone this is how we’re going to do it,” he said.
Paussa stressed that he has mingled with folks on the street to a large degree in Basalt and has a good feel for what people are thinking. He wants to continue to draw on their opinions while in office.
Maley emphasized his ability to bring a fresh perspective to the town. He doesn’t have political experience and has “no hidden agenda,” he said.
Maley, 44, is a contractor who has operated his own business in Basalt for 16 years. He is married with two kids. He has employed a lot of people, met payrolls and relies on subcontractors and suppliers in the town. He touted his experience at creating realistic budgets and making tough decisions to balance budgets.
“I believe a business-like approach will be the best method for preserving Basalt’s small town character and supporting and enriching the quality of life of its residents,” Maley said.
Freedman, 71, a former professor of political science, retired to Basalt with her husband. She served eight years on the Town Council before she hit term limits. She now serves on the voluntary Planning and Zoning Commission, but wants to get back on the council and involved in a broader spectrum of issues.
She stressed that her life experiences as well as her time spent with Basalt town government have prepared her well for the position. Her prior accomplishments include leading the effort to adopt rules that allow development of historic structures while preserving them. The building that houses Saxy’s Cafe is a classic example of how that can work, she said.
Freedman was known as a slow-growth council member but she said the town needs to ease up on a development restriction to solve one of its biggest issues. She said she favors waiving the requirement to replace 100 percent of the housing at the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park and Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park as part of redevelopment. It’s too financially onerous and will prohibit any chance of redevelopment of those trailer parks, which studies show are at risk of a catastrophic flood, she said.
Freedman acknowledged that proposing a waiver for redevelopment is “probably heresy” since its been a cornerstone of Basalt policy for a decade.
Rappaport also stressed his experience on the Basalt council. He served two separate four year terms on the board. He pointed to his record as proof he can get the job done to the benefit of the community.
He said he worked with other town council members to lobby the U.S. Postal Service to keep the enlarged post office within walking distance of downtown after it outgrew its old space. Postal officials were looking at a less costly site toward El Jebel. Rappaport said he and former Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens convinced them to keep looking. It ultimately ended up on the extended Midland Avenue, a streets project that Rappaport helped guide.
Similarly, he worked to keep the library from relocating to El Jebel. The town secured property for its new site next to the post office.
Rappaport was also part of a former council that negotiated with the Colorado Department of Transportation to turn over old Highway 82 to the town. Two Rivers Road, as it is now known, has played a big role in solving parking issues.
Rappaport, 56, is married with four children. He said Basalt has got a lot going for it. “I don’t think we should be embarrassed about what we accomplished,” he said.
The Aspen Times’ coverage of the election will continue Monday with profiles of all six candidates.
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