Basalt council grants final consent for Willits

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

BASALT – The Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night finalized the alterations needed to preserve a chance for construction of a Whole Foods Market at Willits Town Center. Now it’s up to the private sector to sink or swim.The council voted 5-0 to support the second and final reading of an ordinance that amends approvals for the Whole Foods Market building. The major provisions include shrinking the size of the store space from 44,000 to 25,000 square feet; deferring construction of affordable housing; and approving extra signs within the development for various retail businesses.The council also agreed to use $500,000 from town coffers to help the developer complete a roundabout at Willits Lane and East Valley Road. The developer will also be required to clean up what has evolved into an abandoned construction site. Representatives of the developer and owner asked for permission to use half of the estimated $146,000 in building fees to apply told the construction management plan, essentially using $73,500 due to the town to clean up the site. The council wouldn’t go for it.”This comes back to the big question of does development pay its way?” said Councilman Pete McBride. “We’re picking up the slack left and right here.”After going thorough long, wandering and often laborious discussions Tuesday night, Mayor Leroy Duroux and council members Anne Freedman, Glenn Rappaport and Jacque Whitsitt joined McBride in granting approval for the store. Council members Katie Schwoerer and Karin Teague were absent.The council took the unprecedented move – at least in recent years – of completing a major development review in just one month. Pre-recession reviews of major projects were measured in years, not weeks or months.The council justified the fast-track review on the grounds that Whole Foods’ lease expires on Sept. 2 if new land-use approvals aren’t in place. The grocery store is the anchor tenant and a vital cog to make Willits Town Center work.A former councilman and two civic activists in Basalt in a letter urged the council to slow the review and avoid subsidies for the project. Former councilman Jon Fox-Rubin, along with Jim Paussa and Auden Schendler, said the town should never fast track a review because a developer faces a hardship.”Many Basalt citizens are facing their own hardships and shouldn’t be asked to shoulder the problems of this development without taking the time to make an informed decision that is in the best interest of the town,” the letter says.The three didn’t attend the meeting to press their points.Despite the council’s action, questions still abound. Bank of America foreclosed on the project in April after claiming that developer Joseph Freed & Associates defaulted on the loan and owes $36 million.A foreclosure sale was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but it has been pushed back to Sept. 15. Officials with Freed contend they will work out an agreement to retain control of the project, and they have participated in the land-use approval process. Meanwhile, a court-appointed receiver, Cordes and Co. of Denver, is managing the Basalt


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