Basalt council ignores advice on 4-story hotel
About 24 hours after learning that Basaltines want to preserve small-town character in ways like restricting growth and building heights, the Town Council indicated it will approve a four-story, 48,000-square-foot hotel.The mixed messages were delivered on consecutive nights Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, the town government hosted a community meeting specifically on how to preserve small-town character.Planners noted that a scientific survey of town residents showed 72 percent feel preservation of small-town character is “important.” Among the top 10 ways to achieve that goal, respondents in a second survey listed limiting growth (at No. 4), not allowing growth (at No. 6) and restricting building heights (at No. 9).Those survey results barely came up Tuesday night when the Town Council reviewed a hotel proposed along Highway 82 at the Basalt Bypass. Six of the seven Town Council members said they would support a fourth story as long as minor adjustments were made to a corner of the building to help it blend in with the neighborhood.The decision is controversial because it overturns a recommendation by the town’s planning commission. That advisory board voted 5-1 last month to allow a 45-foot structure but with only three stories instead of four. The planning commission felt the structure was important to the image of town and that a fourth story added too much bulk. The height was allowed to remain at 45 feet so that architectural elements could be designed to break up the appearance.Some council members said Tuesday night they didn’t understand what difference it would make if the building was three or four stories as long as the height remained at 45 feet. That height was granted in 2002 to compensate landowner and hotel developer Ron Richmond for the loss of land because of restrictions on development in flood-prone areas. He ended up with a long, narrow lot, so the council in office three years ago approved a height variance.Richmond and his partners want to build a 57-unit condominium project that will operate like a hotel. Owners of the condo units will be able to use their units for six months of the year but no more than 90 consecutive days. It’s designed to provide Basalt with “hot beds” by making rooms available to tourists, according to Richmond’s team.The hotel is proposed between Highway 82 and the Roaring Fork River, just east, or upvalley, from Stubbies bar.Councilman Mark Kittle credited Richmond and his team for the effort they put into the planning. “If we keep beating these applicants up, we’re not going to end up with anything. That’s my opinion,” Kittle said. “We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot like some of our neighboring communities.”Mayor Leroy Duroux acknowledged it was “scary” to approve a four-story hotel, but he felt the architecture would help break up the mass. He said the hotel is needed to provide more shoppers and diners for Basalt businesses.”The town really needs guest beds,” Duroux said.Councilwoman Tracy Bennett said she’s spent nearly eight years on the council “freaking out over third and fourth stories.” But she has concluded concessions on height are necessary to avoid sprawl over a greater land area.Councilwoman Anne Freedman said she could support the fourth story because it provides a buffer between town and the highway.Only Councilwoman Laurie Dows indicated opposition to the fourth story, saying it is “a bit daunting.””The sense of small-town character is echoing strongly in my mind,” she said.Councilman Glenn Rappaport also noted the town’s “dealing with all this small-town character mantra,” but he said he could support a fourth story if materials were used to change the corner closest to Stubbies and more landscaping was used in front of the building.The application was tabled until Jan. 24 to give Richmond time to work on the suggested changes. “We’re close, and it’s positive close,” said Town Manager Bill Efting.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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