Basalt council outlines issues with hotel, condo project
THE AUDIENCE REACTION
Lowe Enterprise’s presentation of its hotel and condominium project Tuesday evening attracted a standing room only crowd of more than 50 people to Town Hall.
While most people were there to listen, about 10 people asked questions or made comments. Based on audience clapping and reaction to the presentation, most liked what they heard.
Basalt resident Kathleen Cole said she thought coming into the meeting she might be concerned about a fourth story on the three proposed buildings, but her concrns evaporated when she heard architect John Cottle’s presentation.
“I think it’s a great project,” Cole said. “I really commend you on the open space between the buildings.
“I think it’s an awesome project,” Cole added. “I wish you could start tomorrow.”
One audience member was concerned about the price of the 40 condos in the project that the developer said would be oriented toward year-round residents. The prices will range from $500,000 to $600,000 for the two-bedroom units and around $700,000 for three-bedroom units.
The speaker asked if the condos would sell at those prices. “You don’t want a bunch of spec houses that we’re trying to fill for years,” he said.
Lowe representatives said they are confident there will be demand.
Basalt resident Matt Jay said he liked the direction of the project and how the property integrates with a park the town of Basalt is developing along the Roaring Fork River, adjacent to the Lowe’s property. He indicated it was a worthwhile trade of greater height of buildings for more open space.
“What do we get if we give you another level?” Jay asked.
He also inquired if Lowe Enterprises will post a bond large enough to make sure the project isn’t abandoned like Base Village in Snowmass Village if Lowe runs into difficulties.
Lowe Enterprises President Jim DeFrancia said proper bonding would be in place. He also said the project will be started and completed in phases. The project could take more than three years to complete, he said.
Basalt resident Gerry Terwilliger said he didn’t believe Lowe’s proposal provided all the open space sought by the Downtown Area Advisory Committee, which was appointed by the Town Council to create a vision for the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park and other downtown properties. Terwilliger was part of that committee.
“The amount of park to me doesn’t seem adequate,” Terwilliger said.
But Basalt resident Steve Chase, another member of the committee, said the group’s research indicated Basalt has above average parkland for its size. “We are the open space capital of small towns,” Chase said.
Brian Dillard of Basalt expressed support for any project that will bring “boots on the ground” to downtown Basalt. However, the town needs to be mindful that projects that draw people to downtown will draw vehicles. Basalt needs adequate parking, he said.
Building height didn’t emerge as a prime concern in the Basalt Town Council’s first-blush, informal look at a downtown hotel and condominium project Tuesday, but it was clear that open space, affordable housing and parking will get scrutinized in the official review.
A company called Lowe Enterprises unveiled details of its plan to build a 150,000-square-foot project along Two Rivers Road at the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site.
The development team, which includes Cottle Carr Yaw Architects, stressed they wanted “honest feedback” from council members before an application is officially submitted. Once a plan is in, council members are legally limited from commenting until it is time to vote.
The development team focused part of its presentation on the need to build a 3½-story project. John Cottle, a partner in the architecture firm, said the fourth floor of the buildings would be set back from the remainder to soften the view.
“The third floor defines the skyline, not the fourth floor,” Cottle said. “When you’re standing closest to the building, the fourth story recedes.”
Cottle said some Basalt residents have legitimate concerns about building heights, but in this case the buildings needs to be taller so that more open space can be preserved. Without the fourth floors, he said, “The buildings have to occupy more land.”
In addition, to make the project economically viable, Lowe Enterprises would have to add a fourth building with the fourth floor on three proposed buildings, according to Cottle. “It becomes a little more wall-like,” he said.
Instead, Cottle touted the open spaces of the project as proposed. Large gaps would be left between the Rocky Mountain Institute building under construction to the west and the first building of condominiums built by Lowe, Cottle said. On the opposite end of the project, open space would be preserved to create an entry from downtown to a park Basalt town government is building on the Roaring Fork River half of the Pan and Fork site. A 60-room, boutique hotel is envisioned toward that side of the property. Lowe Enterprises President Jim DeFrancia said it would be a 3- or 3.5-star hotel with a distinctive design and character. Lowe Enterprises’ property management division, Destination Resorts, would operate the hotel rather than a chain. The project is tentatively dubbed The Park Hotel.
The hotel would have a brew pub and banquet space available for the public, both oriented toward the open east end.
Another selling point for the development team was a wide-open space that will extend between the middle building on the property — with more condos — and the hotel. That “living street” would extend across Two River Road from Midland Spur and into the Pan and Fork property. Cottle said the team envisions food trucks, street vendors and activities to draw people in and help make Basalt more vibrant.
Cottle said the project as envisioned could leave 58 percent of Lowe Enterprise’s part of the property open and nearly 80 percent when including the town’s park, which is under construction on the other half of the site.
No council members flinched over a setback fourth floor, which will require a height variance of an as yet undetermined amount. However, questions were raised over what the public is getting in return.
“My big thing was I can handle some development but I want to see some park,” said Councilman Gary Tennenbaum. He said the touted amount of open space is “misleading” because it won’t all be useable.
He also said he wanted to see affordable housing in the mix. Lowe Enterprises is proposing 40 condos oriented toward year-round residents and 12 luxury units affiliated with the hotel. Most of the 40 condos would be two-bedroom units ranging in price from $500,000 to $600,000 and three-bedroom units priced around $700,000.
“This doesn’t even come close to dealing with some big issues in this town,” Tennenbaum said. The council heard a report earlier Tuesday from a consultant that studied the town’s affordable-housing needs. Representatives of Economic and Planning Systems Inc. said the town needs to build 200 affordable housing units in the next five years to dent demands.
“I’m not sitting here saying “No, no, no,” but these are my issues,” Tennenbaum said.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and councilmen Bernie Grauer and Rob Leavitt also raised concerns about lack of affordable housing in the plan. “We are 200 units behind the eight ball and it’s getting worse,” Whitsitt said.
Councilman Rick Stevens missed the presentation on affordable housing, but he said the town could handle the lack of affordable housing by exercising political will and pursuing some projects. “It doesn’t have to be on the back of every developer that comes to the table,” he said.
Stevens said Lowe’s project is exactly the kind of development aspired to by multiple Basalt master plans and studies over the past 20 years.
“We’re probably going to have the nicest linear park of any river town anywhere,” Stevens said.
Grauer was generally complimentary of the plan but asked if adequate parking will be provided. The issue was flagged as another ripe for further discussion.
Whitsitt said she “expected to see more open space.” She said she also is concerned that the proximity of residences and hotel rooms to the park and open areas will generate complaint about noise and limit uses of public places.
“We talked about open space a lot and will continue to do so,” Cottle said.
DeFrancia, a veteran developer who is obviously comfortable in public settings, absorbed all the comments and promised to work on the issues. He said Lowe aims to submit an application within 60 to 90 days.
A public open house will be held on the plan Thursday at Town Hall from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
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