Basalt council leaning toward child care over affordable housing at Stott’s Mill development
The Basalt Town Council is reluctant to let go of the prospect of opening a child-care or youth center in favor of affordable-housing units in the long-awaited Stott’s Mill development, even as the town struggles to find a willing provider for the space.
At a work session Tuesday, council members, the Stott’s Mill developer, and local child-care/youth education experts discussed the future of the 4,000-square-foot space in the development.
“I’m (reluctant) to let go of the day-care center until we’ve heard all of the options. And, I think it’s very easy to say we’re looking for this package of a day-care provider to come in and serve us, but I think we need to be looking at it more holistically,” said council member Elyse Hottel. “How can we help, how can we subsidize, what other resources are out there?”
The multi-building residential development received approval through Ordinance 20 in 2017, contingent upon the installment of a child-care center that would pay 80% of the market-rental rate or about $2,400 monthly. It also allowed the convergence of the space to two Category 2 deed-restricted housing units.
But now, as the residential buildings are on track to be completed this year, the Basalt council has yet to attract anyone to offer child-care services.
“I think the challenge is that we haven’t had the space or a building, historically. And now, we have a different opportunity in front of us,” said Michelle Thibeault, planning director for the town.
She also said that the changing business models for child-care centers and the relatively small size of the space limits potential day-cares, which seek space for multiple classrooms.
The search for a day-care provider has been ongoing for at least a year, so town staff is considering a youth center targeted to grades 4-12.
Aspen Youth Center Executive Director Michaela Idhammar-Ketpura said the space would be too small for her organization to expand into that location. She also noted that the capital campaign for such a project would take three to five years, much longer than the Stott’s Mill developer, MSP Development Group, hopes to stay on the project.
Amy Honey, executive director of Basalt Education Foundation, highlighted the need for a youth center in Basalt — even if it is not at Stott’s Mill.
“After-school activities … can be very expensive and very difficult for families to access if they don’t have a parent to get them where they need to go,” she said, calling the absence of a free after-school program for youth in Basalt an equity issue.
Stott’s Mill is only about a 15-minute walk from Basalt High School and Basalt Middle School.
Also at the meeting was Briston Peterson of MSP Development Group, who said the space should be converted to four affordable housing units: three 2-bedroom units and one 1-bedroom unit — two more than required by the ordinance.
“The demand we see for housing is real. It’s not going away. We need to provide affordable housing for our city in this valley, and this is an opportunity to put four more housing units into that stock,” he said.
He also said that residents of Stott’s Mill contacted him with concerns over a youth center in the development.
And, he said that the 4,000-square-foot space is ready for next steps of construction once they know how the space will be used. MSP Development is wrapping up the project with the last of the four residential buildings scheduled to be completed by September.
“I think the best service for the space is housing because that’s the ultimate goal of what Stott’s Mill is about — to provide housing for the worker bees,” he said.
The affordable-housing category for the units has yet to be figured out, but Peterson said he would be willing to discuss and decide that with town staff.
Still, council members expressed a desire to explore other youth-facing options for the space.
Hottel referenced other child-care facilities in the valley that receive government subsidizes for rent and offered the idea that council and staff could seek funding from local organizations to sponsor individual rooms in a space.
She also pointed out that Peterson and MSP would make far more money from rent with deed-restricted housing in the space than a child-care center.
“I don’t think we’re at the point to (give up) on the youth-oriented option and that community benefit,” said council member David Knight. “I’d like to see more info as well before we look at a Plan B.”
Thibeault said she could gather initial data on costs and interested sponsors in about a month’s time.
Peterson, who urged speed and expediency throughout the work session, closed with the comment, “We need to exit out of this project … and stabilize this asset.”