Basalt combats urban sprawl
November 29, 2006
For the second time in two weeks, the Basalt Town Council took a controversial position Tuesday night intended to combat suburban sprawl by voting 5-1 that 25 acres of land next to the high school wasn’t eligible for annexation. That means developer David Fiore cannot move forward with his Sopris Chase project, which features 87 affordable housing units.The debate pitted two important community values – affordable housing and avoiding sprawl – against each other.Two weeks ago, the council majority rejected the Roaring Fork Club’s expansion proposal for 32 cabins, 18 single-family homes and 36 affordable housing units. Supporters said the golf club’s project deserved approval because it provided community benefits like affordable housing and more well-heeled customers for businesses.In both cases, the council majority decided it was more important to adhere to the land-use master plan the town crafted in 1999 with widespread citizen involvement. That plan establishes an urban growth boundary – or an area deemed appropriate for growth.The sites of both the golf club’s expansion and Sopris Chase are outside that urban growth boundary.Council members Gary Tennenbaum, Chris Seldin, Amy Capron, Glenn Rappaport and Mark Kittle voted that the Sopris Chase site wasn’t eligible for annexation, although Kittle essentially cast a protest vote (see related story).Mayor Leroy Duroux cast the dissenting vote. He believes the council can and should alter the urban growth boundary to accommodate developments that can benefit the community. Duroux said the town would benefit from Sopris Chase’s affordable housing.A nonprofit affordable housing affiliate of the Catholic Archdiocese in Denver was working with Fiore to built 60 rental apartments at Sopris Chase. Archdiocesan Housing Inc. wants to build housing that targets households making between $39,000 and $58,000 annually, according to the application.”This is a major opportunity for the town,” said Darryl Grosjean, a Basalt resident who is also on the board of directors of Catholic Charities, which guides the housing arm.The organization has built affordable housing projects in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. It has searched for a site to build housing in Basalt for six years but has been told the places it considered were inappropriate, according to Grosjean. He warned that the archdiocese might have to look elsewhere if Basalt keeps saying no.”We can’t come back every five or six years to see if anything has changed,” he said.Fiore labeled his property a “final frontier” for affordable housing. Rising land costs will prohibit developers in the town from including large amounts of affordable housing in projects, he predicted. There is already an acute shortage of housing for working locals, he noted.”We’re going to put a noose around our economic neck in this valley,” Fiore said.All told, Sopris Chase would include 115 residences – 28 free-market units and 87 of affordable housing. Some of the affordable housing would represent replacement housing for residents of the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park in Basalt, which Fiore and his partners own and intend to redevelop.The council majority said their reluctance to annex the Sopris Chase site didn’t necessarily mean they were opposed to the application, per se.”There’s a lot of this project that’s potentially really good,” said Councilman Gary Tennenbaum.But he said he believes it is important for him to uphold the town’s master plan since so many residents helped create the 1999 document. Tennenbaum, Seldin and Capron all won election in April after emphasizing in the campaign that they would uphold the master plan strictly.”If I go against it, I lose public trust,” Tennenbaum said.Tennenbaum said that if the public decided to alter the urban growth boundary for a project like Sopris Chase, which adds affordable housing, he will follow that direction.Rappaport said he also feels it is important for the community to review the urban growth boundaries and determine whether they should be adjusted. He said the decision should be part of a larger review of the master plan – not as part of the review of a specific development application.The Basalt town government has been working on an update of its master plan for two years. It is supposed to be completed in 2007.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.