Basalt could ease growth regulations | AspenTimes.com

Basalt could ease growth regulations

BASALT – Basalt officials have discovered that the economy has done a better job than they could ever do to manage growth, so they want to ease some of their regulations.

The Town Council directed its staff in a work session Tuesday night to integrate a scoring system for development applications into the regular review process rather than have it as a separate prerequisite to review. In addition, Basalt will look at eliminating a competitive aspect of the scoring that pits developers against one another.

Basalt adopted a “community priorities scoring system” for free-market residential projects in 2009 that mirrors Pitkin County’s growth-management quota system. In short, applications receive a score determined by how well they meet community goals. The higher scores earn their share of the 32 housing units approved per year.

Land-use-planning consultant Alan Richman helped Basalt craft its scoring system. He told the council Tuesday that it’s never been put to the test. The Great Recession spread to the Roaring Fork Valley around the same time the regulations were finished.

“The growth that this was designed to manage isn’t there,” Richman said.

Basalt has issued building permits for only three homes and one commercial project since early 2009, Town Planner Susan Philp said. That’s far below the 2 percent growth rate the town targeted with its regulations in 2009.

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However, there is no evidence that the scoring system deterred any developer from submitting an application, Philp said. The town has about 600 housing units approved but unbuilt.

The growth-management system also has a detrimental effect with older, approved projects, Richman said. Those projects might not make sense in this economy, he said. However, developers won’t want to scrap their approvals and propose a different project for review because the criteria in the new scoring system hold them to higher standards on issues such as affordable housing.

Councilman Rick Stevens said he favored repealing the scoring system because conditions have changed so drastically.

“The whole thing needs to get reworked,” Stevens said. “This was a reaction to growth pressure. This was not a proactive document.”

Councilman Herschel Ross had the opposite opinion.

“The idea was to slow growth,” Ross said. “The economy did it for us.”

However, the regulations will likely be needed again, given the history of Basalt and the Roaring Fork Valley, he said. When the economy turns around and applications start flowing again, the scoring system will serve the town well, he said.

“If this was a good idea before, why isn’t it a good idea now?” Ross asked.

He noted that the scoring system produces projects that come closest to achieving the goals sought in the town’s land-use master plan.

Neither Stevens nor Ross was on the council in 2009 when the scoring system was approved. They both won election in April.

The other council members were philosophically between Stevens and Ross. The majority voiced support to keep the growth regulations with modifications. Town Manager Bill Kane suggested a course that gained the majority’s favor. He proposed throwing out the scoring sessions that happen twice per year as well as the competitive aspect to the scoring.

“They were tank traps,” Kane said, referring to the difficulty developers faced with that system. Instead, he suggested a project application should be scored when it is proposed and the score would be used by the town as another tool in the review.

The council directed its staff to work on the suggestions and return for further review.

scondon@aspentimes.com